The provisions regarding maintenance of Hindu women are contained in Section 18 of The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA), 1956 and section 24 and 25 of The Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1956. Section 18 of the HAMA talks about the right of a woman to claim maintenance if she lives separately from her husband for a justifiable cause like desertion, cruelty, leprosy, existence of another wife, concubine, conversion or any other justifiable cause. Sec 24 of HMA provides for maintenance pendente lite and expenses for proceedings (for court proceedings) and Sec 25 provides for permanent maintenance and alimony. Another way to claim maintenance is under section 125 of The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1972. Under this provision any woman irrespective of her religion can claim maintenance. Maintenance includes providing food, clothing, education, residence, medical attendance and treatment. Maintenance to a working woman is usually not given if she can maintain herself with her own income. But in some exceptional cases courts have taken a different stance.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Chaturbhuj v. Sita Bai, AIR 2008 SC 530; has ruled that a woman can claim maintenance if he has deserted her even though she makes efforts to earn her income monthly. Giving a wider interpretation to the provisions, the Hon’ble court held that “The expression "unable to maintain herself" does not mean that the wife must be absolutely destitute before she can apply for maintenance under Section 125 CrPc.” In addition to this the Court also held that ”The phrase "unable to maintain herself" in the instant case would mean that means available to the deserted wife while she was living with her husband and would not take within itself the efforts made by the wife after desertion to survive somehow.” Further it was held that “Earning of wife cannot be a ground to stop her from claiming maintenance unless the earning is sufficient."
An interim maintenance, on the other hand, is also awarded to ensure that during the pendency of the proceedings, the wife is able to maintain the same standard of living which she was used to, in her matrimonial house because of the earning of the husband.
In another case Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya v. State Of Gujarat And Ors, AIR 2005 SC 1809; the Supreme Court held that when wife, children and parents are unable to maintain themselves it is natural duties of a man to maintain them.
Under Section 23 of the Act court will be at discretion with regard to amount of maintenance that will be awarded like position and status of the parties, reasonable wants of the claimant, value of claimant’s property and income from such property, whether the claimant living separately is justifiable. A recent case on maintenance would be Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha, Civil Appeal of 2010 arising out of SLP (Civil) No. 15071 of 2009; Decided on 7-10-2010 (SC) [G.S. Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly, JJ.] wherein It has been held that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given to the term 'wife' to include even those cases where a man and woman have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonably long period of time.