The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 ("Act") is a significant legislation in India that addresses matters related to adoption and maintenance within the Hindu community. Under this act, maintenance holds great importance as it ensures the financial well-being and support of individuals who are unable to sustain themselves financially.
Maintenance, also known as alimony or spousal support, refers to the legal obligation imposed on one party to provide financial assistance to their spouse or dependents. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act extends this concept of maintenance to encompass a wider scope, including provisions for the maintenance of children, elderly parents, and unmarried daughters. The primary objective of maintenance under this act is to safeguard the rights and interests of individuals who are economically dependent on others, particularly in cases of familial breakdown or financial instability. It ensures that individuals who are unable to provide for themselves receive adequate financial support to meet their basic needs, maintain a decent standard of living, and access essential amenities such as food, education, and shelter.
Maintenance of a Wife under Hindu Law
A Hindu wife, regardless of whether she was married before or after the Act's commencement, is entitled to be financially supported by her husband throughout her life. A wife can live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance under specific circumstances. These circumstances include:
- Desertion: If the husband abandons the wife without a reasonable cause, without her consent, or against her wish, or willfully neglects her.
- Cruelty: If the husband treats the wife with such cruelty that she reasonably fears harm or injury by living with him.
- Virulent Form of Leprosy: If the husband is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy.
- Another Wife: If the husband has another wife who is still living.
- Concubine: If the husband keeps a concubine or a mistress in the same house where his wife lives or resides with a concubine elsewhere.
- Conversion to Another Religion: If the husband ceases to be a Hindu by converting to another religion.
- Other Justifiable Causes: If there are any other valid reasons justifying the wife's decision to live separately.
However, a wife is not entitled to a separate residence and maintenance if she is found to be indecent or if she converts to another religion from Hinduism. Further, the judiciary has ruled that a wife who had been living alone and raising children without any assistance from the husband, due to clear desertion, was entitled to separate residence and maintenance.
Read Also: Maintenance Laws for Divorced women in India
Maintenance of a widowed daughter-in-law
According to the Act, a widowed Hindu daughter-in-law is entitled to be maintained by her father-in-law after the death of her husband, regardless of whether she was married before or after the Act's commencement. This entitlement exists provided that the daughter-in-law is unable to support herself financially through her earnings or property. In cases where she does not possess any property, she is also unable to obtain maintenance from the estate of her husband, father, mother, son, or daughter. However, the obligation of the father-in-law to provide maintenance to the daughter-in-law is not enforceable if he does not have the means to do so from any coparcenary property in his possession, and if the daughter-in-law has not obtained any share from it. This means that the father-in-law's financial capability and the daughter-in-law's lack of inheritance from the coparcenary property are crucial factors in determining the enforceability of the maintenance obligation.
Furthermore, the obligation of the father-in-law to provide maintenance ceases upon the remarriage of the daughter-in-law.
Read Also: Maintenance of Widowed Daughter-in-Law
Maintenance of children and aged parents
Under the Act, Hindu individual is legally obligated to provide maintenance to their legitimate or illegitimate children as well as their aged or infirm parents during their lifetime. This maintenance responsibility applies to both mothers and fathers.
A legitimate or illegitimate child has the right to claim maintenance from their father or mother as long as they are a minor.
The obligation to maintain aged or infirm parents or unmarried daughters extends to the extent that the parent or unmarried daughter is unable to support themselves financially from their own earnings or property. The term "parent" in this context includes a childless stepmother, ensuring that the obligation extends to stepmothers as well.
Maintenance of dependants
Who is a dependant?
Section 21 of the Act outlines the specific relatives who are considered dependents under the Act.
- Minor Son, Grandson, or Great-Grandson:
- Unmarried Daughter, Granddaughter, or Great-Granddaughter
- Widowed Daughter
- Widowed Daughter-in-Law or Widowed Granddaughter-in-Law
- Illegitimate Minor Son or Illegitimate Unmarried Daughter
The heirs of a deceased Hindu are legally obligated to maintain and support the dependants of the deceased using the estates inherited by them. This means that those who inherit the estate of a deceased Hindu are responsible for providing financial support to the dependants of the deceased. However, in cases where a defendant has not received any share of the estate through testamentary (based on a will) or intestate (based on inheritance laws) succession, they are still entitled to maintenance from the individuals who have inherited the estate.
The liability for providing maintenance to the dependants falls upon each person who has taken a share of the estate. The extent of their responsibility is determined proportionally based on the value of the share or part of the estate they have inherited.
Nevertheless, even if a person is considered a dependant themselves, they are not obligated to contribute to the maintenance of others if they have received a share or part of the estate that, if enforced, would be worth less than the maintenance they would be entitled to under the Act.
Amount of maintenance for Hindu Families
The Act provides guidelines for determining the amount of maintenance to be awarded to individuals under its provisions. The court has discretionary power to decide whether maintenance should be granted and, if so, the specific amount. In making this determination, the court considers various factors outlined in sub-sections (2) and (3) of the Act.
For wives, children, and aged or infirm parents, the court considers factors such as the parties' position and status, the reasonable needs of the claimant, the justification for living separately if applicable, the value of the claimant's property, income from various sources, and the number of individuals entitled to maintenance.
When determining the amount of maintenance for dependants, the court takes into account factors such as the net value of the deceased person's estate after debts are settled, any provisions made for the dependant in the deceased person's will, the degree of relationship between the two, the dependant's reasonable needs, past relations between the dependant and the deceased, the value of the dependant's property and income from various sources, and the number of dependants eligible for maintenance.
Change or Alteration in the Amount of maintenance
According to Section 25 of the Act, the amount of maintenance awarded to an individual can be altered if there is a significant change in circumstances that justifies such a modification. This applies to maintenance amounts determined by a court decree or through an agreement made before or after the Act's commencement.
Debts to have priority
Section 26 states that debts owed by the deceased, regardless of their nature, take priority over the claims of dependants for maintenance under the Act. This means that any debts contracted or payable by the deceased have precedence over the rights of dependants to receive maintenance.
Maintenance when to be a charge
Section 27 clarifies that a dependant's claim for maintenance is not automatically considered a charge on the estate of the deceased or any portion thereof unless specific conditions are met. These conditions include the creation of a charge through the deceased's will, a court decree, an agreement between the dependant and the estate owner, or other legal means.
Transfer of property on right to maintenance
According to the provision stated, if a dependant has the right to receive maintenance from an estate and the estate or any part of it is transferred to another person, the right to receive maintenance can be enforced against the transferee under certain circumstances. If the transferee has notice of the right to maintenance or if the transfer is made without any consideration (gratuitous), the dependant can enforce their right to maintenance against the transferee. However, if the transfer is made for consideration and the transferee is unaware of the right to maintenance, the dependant cannot enforce their right against the transferee.