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Maintenance under Muslim Law


Maintenance
Maintenance

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Muslim Law of Maintenance


Under the Muslim law of maintenance (nafaqa), unlike other legal systems, the obligation of a Muslim to provide maintenance arises only if the claimant lacks the means or property to support themselves. While the obligation to maintain children is personal, akin to Hindu law, it is not absolute; there is no obligation if the children have a source of income.



The same principle applies to aged parents and other relatives within the prohibited degrees. Additionally, the obligation is proportional to the obligor’s share in their property (as noted by Paras Diwan).



Therefore, under Muslim law, the person responsible for maintaining children, aged parents, and other close relatives must be in a position to support them.



However, in the case of a wife, the obligation is absolute. A husband is required to maintain his wife irrespective of her financial situation, even if he himself is not financially capable of supporting her. The maintenance of the wife is a primary obligation.

 
 

Supreme Court's Stance on Maintenance of Muslim Children


The Supreme Court of India has clarified the obligation of a Muslim father regarding the maintenance of his children. It stated, “Both under the personal law and the statutory law (Sec. 125, Cr PC), the obligation of a Muslim father, having sufficient means, to maintain his minor children, unable to maintain themselves, till they attain majority and in case of females till they get married, is absolute” (Noor Saba Khatoon v. Mohd Quasim, AIR 1997 SC 3280).



Key Points of Muslim Maintenance Law:


  • Claimant's Financial Status: The obligation arises only if the claimant lacks the means to support themselves.


  • Children’s Maintenance: While it is a personal obligation, it is not absolute if the children have their own income.


  • Aged Parents and Close Relatives: The obligation extends to aged parents and close relatives within prohibited degrees, proportional to the obligor’s share in their property.


  • Wife’s Maintenance: The obligation to maintain a wife is absolute and primary. The husband must support his wife regardless of her financial position or his own ability to do so.


  • Legal Precedents: The Supreme Court has affirmed that a Muslim father must maintain his minor children until they reach majority, and his daughters until they get married, provided he has sufficient means.



This delineation underscores the nuanced and conditional nature of maintenance obligations under Muslim law, with a distinct emphasis on the absolute obligation towards the wife and the nuanced obligations towards children, aged parents, and other relatives.



Wife’s Right to Maintenance under Muslim Law


Under Muslim law, the wife’s right to maintenance from her husband is absolute. A Muslim husband is obligated to maintain his wife in a valid marriage, irrespective of any agreement to that effect. This obligation does not extend to the wife of a void or irregular marriage, except when the marriage is irregular solely due to the absence of witnesses.



The financial status of the wife, whether rich or poor, Muslim or non-Muslim, does not affect her right to maintenance. The husband’s financial situation is also irrelevant; he is required to provide for his wife regardless of his means.



Absolute Right to Maintenance: A wife’s right to maintenance is considered a debt against the husband and is an independent right. She has the right to pledge her husband’s credit to ensure she receives maintenance (‘mataa’). This right is enforceable under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, providing a quick and immediate relief to a needy and aggrieved wife without delving into her entitlement under personal law.



Ultimately, the question of entitlement is to be settled by a civil court under personal law. The amount of maintenance is determined by the court, considering the wife’s needs and the socio-economic conditions of the husband.



Preference in Maintenance: In matters of maintenance, the wife is given priority over all other individuals, including necessitous parents and other needy relations within prohibited degrees, as well as young children. This prioritization is based on the principle that the wife is considered the source or root (asl), while a child is viewed as the offspring or a branch (fara).



Conditions for Maintenance: The husband’s obligation to maintain his wife persists only as long as the wife remains faithful and adheres to all his ‘reasonable’ orders, fulfilling her matrimonial duties. According to Section 125(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code, a wife is not entitled to receive maintenance if she is living in adultery.



However, a wife retains her right to maintenance if she refuses access to her husband on lawful grounds, such as her illness or a defect in her organs, or when the marriage cannot be consummated due to the husband’s fault, such as his minority.



If the consummation is not possible due to the wife’s ill-health, old age, or faulty organs, she is not considered to be transgressing her matrimonial obligations and may still lawfully claim maintenance from her husband.



Judicial Enforcement: The wife can enforce her right to maintenance through the Criminal Procedure Code, which provides a swift remedy for immediate relief. However, the civil court ultimately resolves questions of maintenance under personal law. The court determines a reasonable amount for maintenance based on the wife’s requirements and the husband’s socio-economic status.

Commencement and Conditions of Maintenance Under Muslim Law


Under Muslim law, a husband's duty to maintain his wife begins only when she attains puberty, typically at the age of 15. Before this age, if the wife is too young for sexual intercourse and resides with her parents, she has no right to claim maintenance from her husband.



Pre/Ante-Nuptial Agreements: A wife can also claim future maintenance based on a pre/ante-nuptial agreement, which may include provisions for suitable maintenance in case of ill-treatment. Such agreements often include special allowances such as kharch-i-pandon (daily expenses), guzara (living expenses), or mewa-khori (fruit expenses).



If the wife lives separately due to the non-payment of prompt dower, which is a lawful ground for separation, she does not lose her right to maintenance, and the husband remains obligated to support her.



Arrears of Maintenance: Under Muslim law, arrears of maintenance cannot be claimed by any relative other than the wife. The wife's right to maintenance persists even if she can support herself with her own property.



Notably, during widowhood, the wife is not entitled to maintenance during the Iddat period, as she is eligible for inheritance, which serves as a substitute for maintenance.



Maintenance During Separation Due to Second Marriage: A Muslim wife living separately because of her husband's cruel behavior, such as taking a second wife, is entitled to maintenance. In Imamia Asghari (AIR 1960 All. 684), it was held that the wife is entitled to be maintained by her husband under such circumstances.



The Supreme Court in Begum Subanu v Abdul Gafoor (AIR 1987 SC 1103) clarified that there is no conflict between Muslim personal law and the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) regarding the wife's claim for maintenance when the husband contracts a second marriage.



According to Sec. 125 of the Cr.P.C., the first wife is entitled to claim maintenance. The provision aims to protect the rights of a neglected wife, and the explanation to Sec. 125(3) should be construed from the perspective of the injury to the matrimonial rights of the wife, rather than the husband's right to remarry.



Absolute Right to Maintenance: The wife's right to maintenance from her husband is absolute. This right applies regardless of the wife’s financial position and irrespective of whether the marriage is valid, except when the marriage is void or irregular (with the exception of irregularity due to lack of witnesses). The husband’s financial capability is irrelevant; he must provide for his wife regardless of his means. 



Enforcement and Determination of Maintenance: The wife can enforce her right to maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which offers immediate relief without examining entitlement under personal law.



The civil court ultimately resolves questions of maintenance under personal law. The court decides a reasonable amount of maintenance based on the wife’s needs and the husband’s socio-economic status.



In summary, under Muslim law, the wife’s right to maintenance is an unequivocal and independent right that the husband must fulfill, regardless of his financial situation or the wife’s economic status. This right takes precedence over other claims for maintenance and is enforceable through legal provisions to ensure the wife’s well-being and support within the marriage.

 
 



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