Litigation centred around ‘maintenance’ remains an abrasive subject for litigants. For the courts, it is usually a mixed question of law and facts. However, at times, the issues involve an exercise in statutory interpretation. Recently, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court ruled that a ‘divorced daughter’ cannot claim maintenance from her brother or her mother. The rationale being that a divorced daughter does not qualify as a ‘Dependent’ under Section 21 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (“HAMA” or the “Act”). The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, in this case, was sitting in appeal over a judgement of the Ld. Judge, Family Court, South-East Saket, New Delhi (“Saket Family Court”), which had dismissed the appellant’s plaint. As the Hon’ble Delhi High Court refused to set aside the judgement of the Saket Family Court, in the process, it clarified the law on maintenance to divorced daughters in India. An overview of the law in respect of maintenance under the HAMA may provide a useful background to the issues involved in this lis.
HAMA was enacted in 1956 to amend and codify laws relating to adoption and maintenance among Hindus. Chapter III of HAMA, ranging from Section 18 to Section 28, consists of provisions for maintenance of wife, widowed daughter-in-law, children and aged parents. Pertinently, Section 21 of HAMA specifically enlists nine dependents who may claim maintenance under the Act. The factors and considerations for determining the maintenance amount are set out under Section 23 of the Act. Additionally, Section 25 of the Act makes a provision for maintenance to be altered if there is any material change in the circumstances of the parties.
The legal principles governing maintenance under HAMA have been elucidated in several judicial precedents. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Jagdish Jugtawat vs. Manju Lata and Ors. has held that a daughter is entitled to maintenance from her parents only till her marriage. Further, in Malti kumari vs State of Bihar, the Hon’ble Patna High Court, while observing that a divorced daughter does not feature in the definition of ‘dependents’ under Section 21 of the HAMA, has ruled that a married daughter, whether divorced or not, cannot be treated as a ‘dependent’ on her father.
In the recent decision pronounced by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court, the Hon’ble Court was adjudicating upon an appeal preferred by a divorced woman who sought maintenance from her brother and her mother. The appellant’s appeal emanated from her plaint before the Saket Family Court being rejected at the threshold under Order 7, Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The Saket Family Court, while dismissing the plaint, held that a ‘divorced daughter’ is not included under the nine categories of ‘dependents’ mentioned under Section 21 of HAMA. As it was already placed on record that the appellant had received a share from the property of her father, the Saket Family Court invoked Section 22 (2) of the HAMA. Section 22(2) states that only the dependent who has not obtained any testamentary or intestate succession or any share in the estate of a deceased Hindu, shall be entitled to maintenance from those who have taken the estate.
The Hon’ble Delhi High Court, while sitting in appeal, rejected the submissions of the appellant and held that the appellant is entitled to seek maintenance from her husband even after the divorce (even though, in this case it was the contention of the appellant that her husband was not traceable). The same right, however, could not be extended to her family members. The Hon’ble High Court upheld the Saket Family Court’s judgement and affirmed that a ‘divorced daughter’ does not feature in the nine categories of ‘dependents’ as mentioned in Section 21 of HAMA. Moreover, the Hon’ble High Court also observed that the appellant could not raise a fresh claim of maintenance from the respondents because she had already received her share from the estate of her father.
Reaffirming the law on the subject, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court clarified that even if the circumstances are difficult, the categories of ‘dependents’ mentioned under Section 21 cannot be expanded/ enlarged to include within their fold a ‘divorced daughter’.
 Malini Chaudhari vs. Ranjit Chaudhari & Ors. MAT.APP. (F.C.) 89/2018, judgment dated September 13, 2023
(i) his or her father;
(ii) his or her mother;
(iii) his widow, so long as she does not re-marry;
(iv) his or her son or the son of his predeceased son or the son of predeceased son of his predeceased son, so long as he is a minor; provided and to the extent that he is unable to obtain maintenance, in the case of a grandson from his father’s or mother’s estate, and in the case of a great grand-son, from the estate of his father or mother or father’s father or father’s mother;
(v) his or her unmarried daughter, or the unmarried daughter of his predeceased son or the unmarried daughter of a predeceased son of his predeceased son, so long as she remains unmarried: provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance, in the case of a grand-daughter from her father’s or mother’s estate and in the case of a great-grand-daughter from the estate of her father or mother or father’s father or father’s mother;
(vi) his widowed daughter: provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance-
(a) from the estate of her husband, or
(b) from her son or daughter if any, or his or her estate; or
(c) from her father-in-law or his father or the estate of either of them;
(vii) any widow of his son or of a son of his predeceased son, so long as she does not remarry: provided and to the extent that she is unable to obtain maintenance from her husband’s estate, or from her son or daughter, if any, or his or her estate; or in the case of a grandson’s widow, also from her father-in-law’s estate;
(viii) his or her minor illegitimate son, so long as he remains a minor;
(ix) his or her illegitimate daughter, so long as she remains unmarried.
 (2002) 5 SCC 422
 (2001) (2) PLJR 738
 Supra at 1