Assisting someone who is unable to take care of and support themselves is the essence of maintenance. Most Indian women are unable to support and sustain themselves on their own following a divorce or the death of a husband due to social constraints and diminutions. In order to facilitate this process for widows, a law has been established by the parliament. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 is the legislation that governs maintenance.

Legal Framework-

Section 19 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, talks about the Maintenance of a Widowed Daughter-In-Law, and states that,

“(1) A Hindu wife, whether 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.

Provided and to the extent that she is unable to maintain herself out of her earnings or other property or, where she has no property of her own, is unable to obtain maintenance-

(a) from the estate of her husband or her father or mother, or

(b) from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate.

(2) Any obligation under sub-section (1) shall not be enforceable if the father-in-law has not had the means to do so from any coparcenary property in his possession out of which the daughter-in-law has not obtained any share, and any such obligation shall cease on the remarriage of the daughter-in-law.”

Under what circumstances can a widow claim maintenance from her in-laws?

1. Maintenance rights for widows: Section 18 of the HAMA states that any Hindu wife, even a widow, has the right to maintenance from her husband while he is alive. She has the right to maintenance from the spouse or his estate if he doesn’t pay it.

2. No separate claim against in-laws: A widow is not allowed to make a separate maintenance claim against her in-laws under the HAMA. Her husband or his estate bears the principal liability. Unless they inherited the husband’s property and have sufficient resources, in-laws are not required by law to support the widow.

3. Liability of in-laws: If the in-laws have inherited the husband’s assets and are financially secure, they may be morally obligated to provide for the widow. However, the husband’s estate is primarily responsible legally, and his property can be used to pay for maintenance.

4. Exceptional Circumstances: In unusual situations, the widow may ask her in-laws for maintenance if the husband’s inheritance is too small or insufficient to cover her maintenance. If the in-laws have significant resources or assets and the widow is unable to support herself, this may be an option.

Factors Considered in Maintenance Claims-

Section 18 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956, is the key section that governs maintenance claims. The court takes into account several considerations while deciding maintenance claims, including:

1. Status and Position: The court takes the parties’ positions and statuses into account. This comprises the claimant’s and respondent’s financial resources, social standing, and way of life.

2. Income and Property: The court weighs the claimant’s and respondent’s assets, income, and real estate. This covers their earning potential, financial investments, and other assets.

3. Standard of Living: The court considers the lifestyle the claimant was used to leading throughout the marriage. It takes into account the claimant’s way of life, conveniences, and comforts before the conflict or separation.

4. Age and health: The claimant’s age and state of health are taken into account when assessing their ability to support themselves financially and earn a living.

5. Financial Needs: The court determines the claimant’s financial needs by evaluating variables such as his or her need for food, clothes, shelter, education, medical care, and other necessities.

6. Maintenance of Children: The court takes into account the claimant’s financial obligation to provide for their children’s needs, including their education, well-being, and general upbringing.

7. Reasonable Expenses: The claimant’s reasonable court costs, such as attorney fees and other associated expenditures, are taken into account by the court.

8. Other Relevant Factors: The court may also takes into account any additional relevant factors that may come up throughout the proceedings and have an impact on the decision regarding maintenance claims.

The process to claim Maintenance from In-Laws-

The process to claim maintenance is quite straightforward,

*Application – First a petition or application is required to be filed for maintenance which should include all the personal relevant details.

*Issue – When the Family Court scrutinizes the petition, a notice is issued.

*Appearance – The parties are then directed to appear in the Court.

*Reconciliation – In case the reconciliation proceedings have already been conducted then the petition is moved to the family court on merits.

*Reply – The opposite party is required to file a reply thereafter, and both parties require to file their detailed income affidavit to evaluate the capacities and liabilities.

*Interim Maintenance – The interim maintenance is decided upon at this stage.

*Evidence – Evidence is brought into the process, and has to be taken in the presence of a person against whom the maintenance is to be ordered, and the evidence is being led with the filing of relevant documents, papers, and summoning of all the witnesses. Note – In case a part willfully avoids summons then the ex-parte evidence is taken upon in the case.

*Arguments – The arguments are made from the sides.

*Order – The Court passes an order whether allowing or dismissing the petition, along with the details of the amount to be paid every month if allowed.

            Thereafter, the proceedings go on, and the court orders the maintenance. Further, it is to be noted that even dealt with in Section 126 of the Cr.P.C. claiming maintenance from in-laws involves understanding legal provisions and seeking appropriate legal counsel, such as consulting with a family lawyer.

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