Living as a family is difficult and sometimes the normal strains of everyday life might lead to arguments and tiffs between parents and children, often ending in the parents saying, “I will cut you off if you disobey me.” This, however, is not possible as parents have a legal obligation to maintain their minor children at least until they attain majority. No parent in India has a legal right to disown their children when they are still minors and this can be attributed to the strong familial bond and values that are rooted in the society. A child who has attained majority under the Indian Majority Act, 1875, can be disowned and the parents can legally stop maintaining him or her.
Difference between disownment and emancipation
Emancipation is a legal process by which a minor child can become legally recognized as an independent adult through a court process.[i] Since this process enables the law to treat minor as responsible adults, they have to prove their ability to manage their own affairs and make major decisions in order to be successfully emancipated from their parents.
Disownment is different from emancipation and it is the process by which the parents stop maintaining their children and severe all familial ties with them. Through this process, a parent can cut off monetary aid to the child and also stop the child from inheriting property.
There is no legal provision for both emancipation by children and disownment of children, when they are minors, in India.
Right to not maintain the child
‘Disowning’ a son is not recognized under the Indian Legal system as the word itself is very wide. It can mean moral detachment, monetary detachment or disinheritance of the son from the family property. There is no bar on the moral obligations and the parents can morally detach themselves from their minor children if they choose to but as long as the child is a minor, the parents are legally obligated to maintain them. This obligation to maintain a child is provided for under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc). Section 125 of the CrPc says that the court can order maintenance of “legitimate or illegitimate minor child, whether married or not, unable to maintain itself.” As far as majority is concerned, the Section says that a parent can be ordered to maintain their “legitimate or illegitimate child (not being a married daughter) who has attained majority, where such child is, by reason of any physical or mental abnormality or injury unable to maintain itself.”
Parents in India are not liable under any statute to pay debts incurred by their son who has attained majority but the prevalent practice to alert any lenders/creditors that they will not be liable for their son’s debts is to publish a notice informing severance of ties with the son.[ii] This notice in the newspaper does not have a legal effect but it is merely a tool to inform the public about the severed relationship and to warn any potential creditors or moneylenders.
Disownment from property
A person can have two kinds of property – ancestral property and self-acquired property. Ancestral property is property that has been inherited by the father from his father. In the case of Maktul v Mst. Manbhari & Others[iii] the Supreme Court defined ancestral property as “property inherited from a direct male lineal ancestor, and as regards collaterals, property inherited from a common ancestor.” In the case of Madanlal Phulchand Jain v State of Maharashtra and Ors[iv] it was decided that each son, by birth, receives a claim to a share of the ancestral property that is equal to and independent of his father and that this equal right with the father can be asserted only after the father receives the ancestral property in his hands. Therefore, even if the father has disowned his son, the son still has a right to claim his share of the ancestral property. However, it is extremely important to look at the mode through which the father has received the property. In the case of C. N. Arunachala Mudaliar v C. A. Muruganatha Mudaliar[v] it was held that the property can only be ‘ancestral property’ if the father receives the property by being the son or descendant of the original owner. For example, if the A receives property by virtue of a gift deed executed by the B, his father, the property is not ancestral property and A’s son C has no claim over it.
Self-acquired property is the property that has been acquired by the parents themselves and the parents can bequeath it to anyone they wish to as the son has no legal claim over this property. However, if the son can prove that his funds or resources were used by his parents to acquire or develop the self-acquired property, the son has a legal claim to his share of the property.[vi] The son also inherits the self-acquired property if the parents die intestate (without a will) and this was held in the case of Preeti Satija v Raj Kumari and Anr.[vii]
There is no legal procedure to disown a minor child in India as the concept of disownment is not legally recognized yet. As far as maintenance is concerned, a minor child has the right to be maintained by the parents until he or she attains majority and even on attaining majority, if the child is physically or mentally unable to maintain itself, the parents have a legal obligation to maintain the child. On the topic of property, a son has a legal claim to the ancestral property and the father cannot deny this right. However, a son has no legal claim to a share of the self-acquired property of his parents unless he has contributed to the property or his parents die intestate.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] FindLaw, Emancipation of Minors, Thomson Reuters, (August 17, 2019, 9:04 PM) https://family.findlaw.com/emancipation-of-minors.html.
[ii] Sunipun, Can a son be disowned? If disowned, what are his rights in the ancestral property?, ipleaders, (August 17, 2019, 9:15 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/right-of-the-son-ancestral-property/#_ftn6.
[iii] Maktul v Mst. Manbhari & Others, (1959) SCR 1099.
[iv] Madanlal Phulchand Jain v State of Maharashtra and Ors, (1992) SCR (2) 479.
[v] C. N. Arunachala Mudaliar v C. A. Muruganatha Mudaliar, (1954) SCR 243.
[vi] Sneha Mammen, Can a father disinherit his son from his property?, PropTiger, (August 17, 2019, 9:27 PM), https://www.proptiger.com/guide/post/can-a-father-disinherit-his-son-from-his-property.
[vii] Preeti Satija v Raj Kumari and Anr. (2013) Civil Misc. Application No. 5451 of 2013.