Our Constitution ensures equal opportunities for both men and women. But we
cannot deny the fact that we live in a society that is pretty patriarchal. The
patriarchal society conceptually considers the wife to be 'the homemaker' and
does not consider it to be her function to engage in the earning of wealth.
Because of this reason, most systems of law recognize the direct obligation of
the husband towards the maintenance of the wife. This obligation does not arise
out of any contract but out of the jural relationship of husband and wife
created by the marriage.
There are various provisions that provide for the
maintenance of the wife:
- Provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- Provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- Provisions under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956
- Provisions under the Protection of Women from the Domestic Violence Act
This article deals with the Maintenance of a wife under the Hindu Adoption and
Maintenance Act, 1956.
Meaning and concept of Maintenance:
The dictionary meaning of the term maintenance is 'support' or 'sustenance'. The
term 'Maintenance' has also been defined under Section 3(b) of the Hindu
Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. It includes provision for food, clothing,
shelter, and basic needs such as education and medical expenses. However, in the
case of an unmarried daughter, apart from the basic necessities it shall also
cover all the reasonable expenses of her marriage.
Under Hindu law, Maintenance may be studied under the following four heads:
Maintenance of wife:
- Maintenance as a personal obligation (It includes maintenance of wife,
children, and aged or infirm parents)
- Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law
- Maintenance of dependants
- Maintenance of members of joint family
In patrilineal families, maintaining the household is primarily the wife's
domain. Under modern Hindu law, a wife still depends on her husband to support
her financially. Most systems of law recognize that there is a direct obligation
of the husband to maintain his wife properly during marriage and that applies
even after the marriage has been dissolved by divorce.
Thus, a wife is entitled
to maintenance in the following three cases:
- When the wife lives with her husband
- When the wife lives separately from her husband
- When the wife lives separately under the decision of the court (judicial
separation) or when the marriage is dissolved
When is the wife entitled to Maintenance?
Section 18(1): When the wife lives with her husband.
Under this sub-section, the husband is obligated to maintain his wife during her
lifetime. It is the husband's personal obligation to maintain his wife which
begins with the marriage and continues throughout the marital relationship. It
is the imperative duty of the husband to maintain a wife who resides with him.
The husband's obligation of maintenance comes to an end only when she leaves him
without any justifiable cause or his consent.
Section 18(2): When the wife lives separately from her husband
Under this sub-section, a wife who lives separately from her husband with a
justifiable cause or his consent is entitled to maintenance. It provides a list
of grounds stating when a wife can live separately and still claim maintenance
from her husband:
Desertion: 'Desertion' as a ground for living separately is defined under S. 18(2)
clause (a) as 'abandoning her without reasonable cause and her consent or
against her wish or of willfully neglecting her'. The desertion may be of
any duration. It is not necessary that it must be of at least two years
which is mentioned as an essential condition of desertion for judicial
separation or divorce under S.10 and 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
In Krishnabai v. Punamchand, the wife refused to live with her husband as she
couldn't stand his father's obtrusive behavior. The court ruled that this was
unreasonable and she, therefore, did not receive any maintenance on the ground
of desertion. In these circumstances, a husband is also entitled to maintenance
from his wife provided that he is unable to maintain himself.
Cruelty: Clause (b) of S. 18(2) defines cruelty as a ground for living
separately. If the wife has been subjected to cruelty during her marriage and
living with her husband calls for danger to her life, then also, she is entitled
In Ram Devi v. Raja Ram, the husband's actions made it clear that he did not
want his wife around, it was held that this amounted to cruelty and justified
the wife's living separately. The burden of proof is on the wife to show that
she was subjected to cruelty.
Leprosy: Clause (c) of S. 18(2) lays down that the wife will be
entitled to maintenance if the husband is suffering from a virulent form of
leprosy. It may be of any duration and no period is prescribed for such. Also,
it must be existing at the time when the claim for separate residence and
maintenance is made.
Another wife is living: Clause (d) of S. 18(2) lays down that any wife
can claim separate residence and maintenance provided one more wife is living at
the time when the claim is made. In Satyanarayana v. Seetheramama, the High
Court of Andhra Pradesh held that the phrase 'wife living' means that the wife
exists or is living and does not necessarily mean that she is living with the
husband. Also, it does not matter whether the wife had consented to the second
marriage of the husband or not. However, both these marriages must be valid to
make a claim.
Keeps a concubine: Clause (e) of S. 18(2) lays down if the husband
keeps a concubine in the same house in which his wife is living, or habitually
resides with a concubine elsewhere. 'Keeping a concubine' or 'living with a
concubine' are extreme forms of 'living in adultery'. In both cases, the wife is
entitled to live separately and claim maintenance from her husband.
Conversion: Clause (f) of S. 18(2) lays down that the wife will be
entitled to maintenance if the husband has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to
Any other justifiable cause: Clause (g) has a wider scope, stating that
if there is any other cause that justifies the wife living separately from her
husband. This clause will mean the same thing as 'reasonable cause'. For a cause
to be a justifiable cause, it should be grave, weighty, and convincing and must
be something more than the normal wear and tear of married life. The mere
drinking habit of the husband is not a sufficient ground for separate residence
When is the wife not entitled to maintenance?
There is a direct obligation of the husband to maintain his wife properly during
marriage and that applies even after the marriage has been dissolved by divorce.
But there are certain exceptions to this rule. Section 18(3) of the Act states
that a Hindu wife will not be entitled to separate residence and maintenance
from her husband:
- If she is unchaste or has committed adultery or any other illicit sexual
relationship with anyone else, or
- If she has ceased to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion
In Dattu Bhau Undage v. Tarabai Dattu Undage
, the order of maintenance passed
under Section 18(2) does not terminate merely on the ground of resumption of
cohabitation. As long as the basis of separate living is not extinguished, she
will be entitled to live separately and claim maintenance. Mere resumption of
cohabitation can't terminate the order passed under section 18(2).
In Abbayolla M. Subba Reddy v. Padmamma
, the defendant had two living wives and
the second wife was claiming maintenance. The validity of the marriage of the
defendant with his second wife was in question. It was held that if a man has
two wives, the marriage with the second wife will be void ab initio as Hindu
laws prohibit bigamous marriage and she will not be entitled to any kind of
Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law:
Section 19(1) lays down that a Hindu wife who has married before or after the
commencement of this Act shall be entitled to be maintained after the death of
her husband by her father-in-law.
She will be entitled to maintenance from her
father-in-law to the extent that:
- She is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other
- She is unable to obtain maintenance from the estate of:
- Her husband
- Her father or mother
- Her son or daughter
Section 19 (2) states those conditions under which the father-in-law is not
liable to maintain his widowed daughter-in-law. The conditions are:
- When the father-in-law does not have any means to maintain her from the coparcenary property in which the daughter-in-law does not have any share, or
- When the daughter-in-law remarries
In Master Daljit Singh v. S. Dara Singh
, the court said that the father-in-law
did not inherit any ancestral property, he was not liable to pay any maintenance
to his widowed daughter-in-law.
Quantum of Maintenance:
The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, provides certain considerations
which the court will take into account while fixing the amount of
maintenance. Section 23(1) lays down that there is no fixed amount for
maintenance that shall be paid and it is to be determined, after considering the
facts and circumstances of the case, by the Court.
Section 23(2) of the Act states that while awarding maintenance to the wife, the
court must do so after considering the following factors:
- Position and status of parties:
The phrase 'position and status of parties' is used in a wider context here. It
will include the financial position and social status of the parties. In all the
cases, the court must evaluate the income of the parties and the standard of
living to which they were used to.
- Reasonable wants of the claimant:
The wants of the claimant should be reasonable and should be according to the
standard necessities of their life. In Kiran Bala Saha v Bankim Chandra Saha, the
wife claimed Rs. 200/month as the amount of maintenance. The court after
examining the reasonable wants of the wife for food, clothing, residence, and
medical care decided that Rs.75 per month will be a sufficient amount for the
satisfaction of her wants.
- Claimant living separately:
The wife is entitled to maintenance even if she is living separately but the
essential condition is that she should be justified in doing so. In Kiran Bala
Saha v. Bankim Chandra Saha, the court said that wife was living separately from
her husband as the latter had another wife living with him. Under such
circumstances, she is entitled to live separately without forfeiting her claim
- Value of the claimant's property and separate earnings of the
The court, while fixing the amount of maintenance, shall consider the value of
the claimant's property or any income derived from such property. It will also
take into account the separate earnings of the claimant.
In Kulbhusan Kumar v. Raj Kumari, it was argued before the Supreme Court that
the property that the wife inherited from her father and the monthly allowance
of Rs. 250 which she got from him during his lifetime should be taken into
consideration while fixing the quantum of maintenance. It was held that a sum of
Rs. 250/month which the wife received from her father was not her income but
only a bounty received though the income of the inherited property has to be
taken into account in fixing the amount of maintenance. In this case, the
husband failed to establish that the wife inherited property from her father.
- Number of persons entitled to be maintained:
In fixing the amount of maintenance, the court has to take into consideration
the number of persons who are entitled to be maintained by the non-claimant.
The law of maintenance has special significance in Hindu Law. A lot of progress
has been made with regard to provisions for maintenance. Not only the wife but
also children, parents, widowed daughter-in-law, and the Hindu male himself are
entitled to maintenance. In marital conflicts, the maintenance idea aims to
return the woman to the same level of comfort and lifestyle that she had before
the marriage. In India, there is no set amount of maintenance that a husband
must give to his wife, and is determined at the discretion of a family court.
- Diwan, Paras. (2019). 'Maintenance.' Modern Hindu Law. Faridabad:
Allahabad Law Agency
- Krishnabai v. Punamchand, AIR 1967 MP 200
- Ram Devi v. Raja Ram, AIR 1963 ALL 564
- Dattu Bhau Undage v. Tarabai Dattu Undage, AIR 1985 Bom 106
- Abbayolla M. Subba Reddy v. Padmamma, 1998 (5) ALD 465
- Master Daljit Singh v. S. Dara Singh, AIR 2000 Delhi 292
- Kiran Bala Saha v. Bankim Chandra Saha, AIR 1967 Cal 603
- Kulbhushan Kumar v. Raj Kumari, 1971 AIR 234