The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 was enacted in the seventh year of independence on 21 December 1956. The Act lays down the provisions regarding the adoption and maintenance of Hindu children and Hindu parents. The act was a part of the Hindu code bills along with legislation like the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956.
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act include a total of 30 sections divided into four chapters, namely, ‘preliminary’, ‘adoption’. ‘maintenance’, ‘repeals and savings’. Further, the maintenance is mention in chapter III under section 18-28 under the following four heads:
- Maintenance of wife (section 18).
- Maintenance of widowed daughter-in-law (section 19).
- Maintenance of children and aged parents (section 20).
- Maintenance of dependents (section 22).
The term “maintenance” is defined as providing provision for r food, clothing, residence, education and medical attendance and treatment. While in the case of unmarried daughters, it also includes the reasonable expenses of marriage. Further, the act clearly states that the claimants of the maintenance should be Hindu. Under Section 24, the act mentions that a person who ceases to be a Hindu by conversion to any other religion is not entitled to maintenance under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 as the act specifically focuses on Hindus.
Section 20 provides for the provision of maintenance of children and parents. As per the section, a Hindu is bound, during their lifetime to maintain his or her children (legitimate or illegitimate) and parents (aged or infirm). However, a legitimate or illegitimate child is only entitled to maintenance from the father or mother as long as he or she is a minor. When the child ceases to be minor, that is the eighteen years of age, he or she will lose his right to maintenance under this act. However, the Section 20(c) states:
“The obligation of a person to maintain his or her aged or infirm parent or daughter who is unmarried extends in so far as the parent or the unmarried daughter, as the case may be, is unable to maintain himself or herself out of his or her own earnings or other property.”
In other words, a Hindu is obligated to maintain his or her parents if they are not able to maintain themselves of their own earnings. In this section, the parent also includes a childless stepmother. Furthermore, an unmarried daughter, who is not able to maintain herself with her earnings or property is needed to be maintained. In the case of Mst. Samu Bai & anr v. Shahji Magan Lal, the Andhra Pradesh High Court stated that if the aged parents are capable of maintaining themselves then the obligation on children under section 20 to maintain parents can be relaxed.
The amount of maintenance is determined by the court keeping in mind various clauses such as the status of the parties, want of the claimant, the value of claimant’s property or the number of people to be maintained under the act and many more. The amount decided by the court can be altered under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act as and when the situation wants.
- The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (No. 78), Act of Parliament, 1956.