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Maintenance Of Wife Under Hindu Adoption And Maintenance Act, 1956

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:
  1. Provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  2. Provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  3. Provisions under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956
  4. 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:
  1. Maintenance as a personal obligation (It includes maintenance of wife, children, and aged or infirm parents)
  2. Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law
  3. Maintenance of dependants
  4. Maintenance of members of joint family

Maintenance of wife:
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:
  1. When the wife lives with her husband
  2. When the wife lives separately from her husband
  3. 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:
  1. 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.
     
  2. 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 to maintenance.

    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.
     
  3. 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.
     
  4. 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.
     
  5. 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.
     
  6. 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 another religion.
     
  7. 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 and maintenance.

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:
  1. If she is unchaste or has committed adultery or any other illicit sexual relationship with anyone else, or
  2. 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.

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:
  1. She is unable to maintain herself out of her own earnings or other property, or
  2. 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:
  1. 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
  2. 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:
  1. 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.
     
  2. 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.
     
  3. 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 of maintenance.
     
  4. Value of the claimant's property and separate earnings of the claimant:
    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.
     
  5. 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.

Conclusion:
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.

References:
  1. Diwan, Paras. (2019). 'Maintenance.' Modern Hindu Law. Faridabad: Allahabad Law Agency
  2. https://www.advocatekhoj.com/library/bareacts/hinduadoptions/index.php?
  3. Krishnabai v. Punamchand, AIR 1967 MP 200
  4. Ram Devi v. Raja Ram, AIR 1963 ALL 564
  5. Dattu Bhau Undage v. Tarabai Dattu Undage, AIR 1985 Bom 106
  6. Abbayolla M. Subba Reddy v. Padmamma, 1998 (5) ALD 465
  7. Master Daljit Singh v. S. Dara Singh, AIR 2000 Delhi 292
  8. Kiran Bala Saha v. Bankim Chandra Saha, AIR 1967 Cal 603
  9. Kulbhushan Kumar v. Raj Kumari, 1971 AIR 234

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