This article has been written by Gunjan Saini pursuing a Lord of the courses (judiciary test prep) from LawSikho.

This article has been edited and published by Shashwat Kaushik.


We must have heard that when a person ages, he behaves like a child. They both are unable to maintain themselves because of their age, as some parents do not have the proper resources to do so. At that point in time, it is the duty of their children to maintain them. In the case of children, it is the duty of parents to provide financial support to meet the needs of the child. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 came into existence to regulate adoptions and provide for the maintenance of family members among Hindus.

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This Act enumerates specific provisions for adoption and maintenance, which specify who can adopt, the eligibility criteria and the legal process involved. The Act also enumerates the obligations of maintenance within a Hindu family. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 is an important piece of legislation that reflects the cultural and legal intricacies of adoption and maintenance within the Hindu community in India. 

What is maintenance

Maintenance refers to financial support given to a spouse, children, and parents in order to meet their basic necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, education and medical expenses, when they are unable to maintain themselves. Maintenance under this Act specifically involves the provision of financial support to dependents who are unable to support themselves. The amount and conditions for maintenance are determined by various factors, including the financial capacity of the person providing maintenance and the needs of the dependents.

Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act came into existence to amend and codify the law relating to adoptions and maintenance among Hindus. The Act extends to the whole of India and applies to any person who is a Hindu by religion and it specifically applies to Hindus, including Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, but in other religions like Muslims, Christians, Jews and Parsis, no separate laws are given, so they approach the court for adoption under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. The Supreme Court of India, in M/S Shabnam Hashmi vs. Union of India (2014), held that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act of 2000 is a secular law. Under this Act, any person, irrespective of their religion, can adopt a child.

Historical background

The concept of adoption and maintenance  is the historical background of maintenance and adoption is intricate, encompassing legal, social, and cultural aspects. The concept of maintenance is often related to child support, and has deep roots in various societies.

Adoption, in contrast, has evolved over time. Ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Romans, had informal adoption practices. In mediaeval Europe, adoption served strategic purposes, like securing heirs. In mediaeval India, adoption was a practice with both cultural and legal dimensions. The Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu legal text, provided guidelines for adoption, emphasising the importance of a male heir to continue the family lineage. The purpose of adoption during this period was often to ensure the continuation of the family name and have a successor to perform ancestral rites.

Adoption in mediaeval India was typically within the same caste or social group, maintaining social and cultural continuity. The adopted child would assume the rights and responsibilities of a biological child, including inheritance rights.

Maintenance and adoption have intertwined histories, reflecting changing societal norms, legal frameworks, and a growing emphasis on the best interests of the child.

Maintenance of children and aged parents

In the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, the maintenance of children and elderly parents is specifically mentioned under Section 20.

  • Section 20 emphasises the duty of a person to provide, in the case of children, maintenance for their education, marriage expenses, and support. In the case of elderly parents, maintenance includes providing for their basic needs.
  • The provision empowers a magistrate to order the person responsible for maintenance to make a regular allowance for the financial support of the child or elderly parent.
  • It is to be noted under this section that ‘parent’ includes a childless step-mother.

It has been held by the Allahabad High Court in Raj Kishore Mishra vs. Smt. Meena Mishra (1994)  that if a father-in-law has no sufficient means from any coparcenary property in his obsession, out of which his daughter-in-law has not obtained any share. to maintain his daughter-in-law, he shall not be obliged to do so.

Are illegitimate children entitled to maintenance

Yes, illegitimate children can also claim maintenance under this Act, as this act does not differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate children in the context of maintenance, because it is the duty of the parents to maintain their children, whether legitimate or illegitimate. This act protects the innocence of children and ensures that they get all the necessities from their parents.

When can aged parents claim maintenance

Under this Act, it is mentioned that the aged parents can claim  maintenance from their children when they are unable to support themselves due to some reasons such as illness, old age, lack of resources or financial constraints.

Factors under which maintenance can be claimed:

  • Voluntariness- If children voluntarily want to give maintenance to their parents for their survival, they can give an amount as maintenance.
  • Financial need- The parent must state their genuine needs and demonstrate an inability to support themselves financially.
  • Children’s Financial Capacity- The court may assess the financial capabilities of the children to determine if they can provide support.
  • Health and Age of Parents- The physical condition and age of the parents can be relevant in determining their ability to earn a living.
  • Existence of Other means of support- The court may consider if the parents have other sources of support, such as pensions or government assistance.

Amount of maintenance

Under Section 23, the amount of maintenance is not fixed at a certain amount; it may vary from party to party.

Section 23 (2) states that while determining the amount for maintenance, several factors are kept in mind, such as:-

  • Status of parties and their current position;
  • The reasonable wants and claims of the claimant;
  • The number of people that are entitled to be maintained;
  • All sources of income for the claimant and value of their property;
  • If the claimant living separately has justified grounds for doing so.

Section 23(3) states that while determining the amount of maintenance to be awarded to a dependent under this act, they have to keep various factors in mind, such as:

  • Count the net value of the estate of deceased after providing for the payment of the debts of the dependent;
  • If any provision is made under the will of the deceased in respect of the dependant;
  • The degree of relationship between the two parties;
  • The reasonable wants of the dependant;
  • The past relationship between the dependent and the deceased;
  • Any property of the dependent, its value, income derived from such property, from his earning and other sources;
  • The  total number of dependents who are entitled to get maintenance under this Act.

Amount of maintenance may be altered by change of circumstances-

Section 25 states that the amount of maintenance that is fixed by the court on any order or decree either before or after the commencement of the Act may be altered by the court if there is any material change in the circumstances. Whenever the alteration is made , there must be justifying reasons for doing so. This provision aims to ensure that maintenance obligations remain fair and equitable, accommodating changes in the financial situation or needs of either party over time.

To determine if a material change has occurred, the court considers various factors, such as:

  1. Change in income: Increase or decrease in the earning capacity or income of either party.
  2. Change in expenses: Changes in living expenses, medical costs, or other financial obligations.
  3. Change in needs: Changes in the health or dependency of the recipient of maintenance.
  4. Change in standard of living: Changes in the standard of living of either party since the initial maintenance order.
  5. Change in marital status: Remarriage or cohabitation of the paying spouse.
  6. Change in parental responsibilities: Additional maintenance obligations due to new children or dependents.
  7. Change in assets and liabilities: Changes in the financial assets or liabilities of either party.
  8. Change in employment status: Loss of employment, retirement, or change in job position.

The burden of proof lies on the party seeking the alteration of the maintenance amount to demonstrate the material change in circumstances. The court may consider evidence such as financial statements, pay stubs, medical records, or witness testimonies to assess the validity of the claim.

Landmark case laws

H.H. Hiralalji Maharaj vs. Shri Ramlalji Maharaj

Facts of the case

In this case, the petitioner, H.H. Hiralalji Maharaj, filed a petition under Section 125 of the CrPC, seeking maintenance from his father, Shri Ramlalji Maharaj. The petitioner claimed that he was above the age of 18 but had not yet attained the age of 25 and was pursuing higher education. He contended that he was unable to maintain himself and, therefore, was entitled to maintenance from his father. Shri Ramlalji Maharaj, the respondent, opposed the petition, arguing that the obligation to maintain a child extends only up to the age of 18 years, and that he was not liable to provide maintenance to his son beyond that age.

Judgement of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, in its judgement, held that the obligation to maintain a child extends beyond the period of minority and continues until the child attains the age of 25 years, or until the child becomes self-sufficient, whichever is earlier. The court observed that the term “child” in Section 125 of the CrPC should be interpreted liberally and that the purpose of the provision is to ensure that children receive adequate financial support from their parents until they are able to support themselves. The court took into consideration the increasing cost of education and the need for children to pursue higher studies in order to secure employment opportunities.

R.D. Shetty vs. Mangaladevi Shetty

Another important case is R.D. Shetty vs. Mangaladevi Shetty, decided by the Supreme Court of India in 1982. In this case, the court held that the obligation to maintain aged parents is a moral and legal duty of the children. The court further held that the amount of maintenance to be paid to the parents should be determined based on the income and earning capacity of the children, as well as the financial needs of the parents.

Bai Tahira vs. Ali Hussain Fissalli Chothia And Anr. (1978)

In this case, the Court held that the term “maintenance” under the Act includes not only food, clothing, and shelter but also education, medical care, and other necessities of life. This decision was crucial in ensuring that children receive comprehensive support and care from their families.

In the landmark case of Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain, the Court interpreted the term “maintenance” under the relevant Act and expanded its scope to include not only the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter but also education, medical care, and other essential needs for a child’s well-being. This decision is significant in several ways:

  1. Comprehensive support: The Court’s interpretation recognises that children’s well-being extends beyond basic necessities and encompasses their educational, medical, and other essential requirements. This broader definition ensures that children receive holistic support and care from their families.
  2. Child’s right to education: By including education as part of maintenance, the Court emphasises the importance of education for children’s development and future prospects. This decision aligns with international conventions and national laws that recognise education as a fundamental right for all children.
  3. Healthcare access: The inclusion of medical care as a component of maintenance underscores the critical role of healthcare in safeguarding children’s health and well-being. It ensures that children have access to necessary medical services, which can have a significant impact on their overall development and quality of life.
  4. Equitable treatment: The Court’s decision promotes equitable treatment of children by ensuring that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have access to essential resources for their well-being. This interpretation helps bridge disparities and creates a more level playing field for children.
  5. Legal precedent: The Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain case sets a precedent for future legal interpretations and establishes a broader understanding of the term “maintenance” in the context of child support. It provides guidance to lower courts and legal practitioners in handling similar cases, ensuring consistency and fairness in the application of the law.

The Court’s decision in this case is a crucial step towards ensuring that children receive comprehensive support and care from their families. It recognises the evolving needs of children in today’s society and emphasises the importance of holistic well-being for their healthy development and future success.

Dastane vs. Dastane (1988)

Another prominent case is the 1988 Supreme Court judgement in the case of Dastane v. Dastane. In this case, the Court held that the Act imposes an obligation on both spouses to maintain their aged parents, irrespective of their financial status. This decision recognised the importance of familial support for senior citizens and ensured that they were not left destitute in their old age.


We had a brief study on the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956, in which we learned about the various provisions related to adoption and maintenance among Hindus. The provisions of this act have given relief to almost every generation, whether they are children or elderly parents. In recent cases, it has been seen that seeking maintenance is not a tough task. There are a number of cases in court daily that deal with maintenance. Under this Act, maintenance is not limited to only the wife but to all, whether she is daughter in law or a widow. Under this Act, special concern is given to the maintenance of children and elderly parents, the maintenance of dependents or the maintenance of family members. Although this act includes all the provisions related to the adoption of a child among Hindus.



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