Right to Claim Maintenance of Women in India: An Overview of Judicial Decisions


Maintenance refers to an amount paid by one spouse to another for financial support during or after matrimonial proceedings. The right of a woman to claim maintenance stems from the moral and legal duty of the husband to maintain his wife and children.[1] In India, the law on maintenance is governed by personal laws as well as secular laws like the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Over the years, the judiciary has expounded on the rights of women to claim maintenance through various landmark judgments.[2] This research paper analyzes the key principles laid down in judicial decisions on a woman’s right to maintenance under personal laws like Hindu law, Muslim law, and secular laws in India.

Maintenance under Hindu Law

According to Hindu law, a Hindu wife has the right to reside separately from her husband without forfeiting her right to maintenance if he is guilty of desertion, cruelty, sufferings from virulent diseases, has a living wife from previous marriage, or keeps a mistress in the same house.[3] The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 codifies the right of a Hindu wife to claim maintenance from her husband during her lifetime.[4] The factors considered for determining the quantum of maintenance under Hindu law include spouses’ status and conduct, wife’s reasonable wants and necessities, her own income and property value, and the husband’s ability to pay maintenance.[5]

Maintenance is considered an ancillary relief to the main proceedings under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 like divorce or restitution of conjugal rights.[6] The Supreme Court has held that even if the wife fails to establish a valid marriage, she will be entitled to maintenance if she has cohabited with the man and they have lived as husband and wife for a long period.[7] The Courts have held that the husband cannot shirk his responsibility towards maintenance on the ground that the wife is capable of earning and looking after herself.[8] Maintenance depends on the husband’s means and the woman’s necessities, standard of living, upbringing, etc.

Maintenance under Muslim Law

Muslim law obligates a husband to maintain his wife during subsistence of marriage.[9] A Muslim wife’s right to maintenance is conditional on her obedience and conjugal society. She loses her right if she refuses sexual intercourse, leaves her husband’s house, or commits adultery. However, she retains the right if the husband ill-treats her or takes another wife.[10] After divorce, a Muslim wife is entitled to maintenance during the iddat period and for any further period till she remarries and is unable to maintain herself.[11] The Muslim Women Protection on Divorce Act, 1986 allows a Muslim woman to claim maintenance from relatives under Muslim law even after the iddat period. Children are entitled to maintenance from their father till attaining puberty in case of sons and till marriage in case of daughters.

Maintenance under Christian Law

Under Christian law, a Christian wife can claim maintenance during matrimonial proceedings or a decree of judicial separation.[12] After divorce, she has the right to claim permanent maintenance under Section 37 of the Indian Divorce Act if she is unable to support herself.[13] The amount is determined based on the husband’s ability and wife’s own income and conduct. The court can modify the order if circumstances change or if the wife remarries or commits adultery.

Maintenance under Secular Laws

A woman irrespective of religion can claim maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 based on the husband’s means and her inability to maintain herself.[14] The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides additional rights to aggrieved women to claim maintenance to meet expenses and losses arising from domestic violence.[15] Under secular laws, the right to residency in a shared household and the status as a divorced wife also entitles a woman to claim maintenance.[16]

Supreme Court & High Court Rulings on Maintenance

Over the years, Indian courts have laid down several important principles concerning a woman’s right to maintenance through judicial decisions:[17]

  1. A Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance under Section 125 CrPC even after divorce till she remarries and cannot maintain herself.[18]
  2. The standard of proof of marriage is not as strict for claiming maintenance as required in criminal cases. If parties have cohabited for a long time, the court can presume a valid marriage.[19]
  3. Women in a live-in relationship will be treated as wives eligible for maintenance if the relationship has permanency and meets requirements like parties holding themselves out as spouses.[20]
  4. Earning capability is not a bar for granting maintenance to a wife who is unable to maintain the marital standard of living.[21]
  5. Interim maintenance can be awarded even before serving notice on the husband if prima facie material shows neglect or refusal to maintain.[22]
  6. Arrears of maintenance can be recovered by enforcing the order as a money decree, including remedy of civil detention.[23]
  7. Maintenance depends on the husband’s means and cannot be denied merely because he does not possess source of income.[24]
  8. The right to reside in a shared household entitles a woman to claim maintenance notwithstanding ownership rights.[25]
  9. Maintenance orders under different laws like CrPC and personal laws can co-exist.[26]
  10. Amount received as permanent alimony is relevant to decide further maintenance to avoid overlapping orders.[27]


A fortiori, the Indian legal framework confers an expansive right on women to claim maintenance in matrimonial disputes under personal laws and secular laws. The judiciary has adopted progressive interpretations, shifting from strictly adjudicating legal rights to addressing the socio-economic rights of women. With the breakdown of conventional family structures, there is a need for further evolution of maintenance laws to overcome limitations and ensure gender equality and dignity for women.


[1] Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya v State of Gujarat, (2005) 3 SCC 636

[2] Chaturbhuj v Sita Bai, (2008) 2 SCC 316

[3] Section 18, The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956

[4] Section 18, The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956

[5] Section 23, The Hindu Adoptions And Maintenance Act, 1956

[6] Section 24-25, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

[7] Chanmuniya v Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha, 2011 (1) SCC 141

[8] Chaturbhuj v Sita Bai, (2008) 2 SCC 316

[9] Hedaya, Vol 1, Bk 1, Ch VII, 202

[10] Section 125, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973

[11] Danial Latifi v Union of India, AIR 2001 SC 3958

[12] Section 36, Indian Divorce Act, 1869

[13] Section 37, Indian Divorce Act, 1869

[14] Section 125, The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973

[15] Section 20, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

[16] S.R. Batra v Smt. Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169

[17] Shamima Farooqui v Shahid Khan, (2015) 5 SCC 705

[18] Iqbal Bano v State of Uttar Pradesh, (2007) 6 SCC 785

[19] Dwarika Prasad Satpathy v Bidyut Prava Dixit, 1999 SCC (Cri) 1302

[20] D. Velusamy v D. Patchaiammal, (2010) 10 SCC 469

[21] Sunita Kachwaha v Anil Kachwaha, (2014) 16 SCC 715

[22] Savitri v Govind Singh Rawat, 1985 SCR (Cri) 93

[23] Section 28A, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

[24] Chaturbhuj v Sita Bai, (2008) 2 SCC 316

[25] S.R. Batra v Smt. Taruna Batra, (2007) 3 SCC 169

[26] Nagendrappa Natikar v Neelamma, (2013) 15 SCC 469

[27] K. Srinivas Rao v D.A. Deepa, (2013) 5 SCC 226

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