Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 - Explained


Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, is a significant piece of legislation in Indian family law that was enacted to amend and codify the law relating to adoptions and maintenance among Hindus. Before this Act, adoption and maintenance laws were scattered and largely based on customary practices, which varied significantly across different regions and communities within India. The Act brought uniformity and legal clarity to these aspects for Hindus, including Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, by providing a structured legal framework.

This Act represents a significant step towards codifying Hindu personal law in India, offering a uniform and comprehensive approach to adoption and maintenance, which was previously governed by diverse customs and practices.

This legislative push included other significant acts such as the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), the Hindu Succession Act (1956), and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), all initiated under the guidance of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The primary purpose behind these reforms was to provide a unified and standardized legal framework for Hindus. Specifically, the 1956 Adoptions and Maintenance Act focuses on the adoption process for Hindus and outlines the responsibilities for providing maintenance to family members, including spouses, parents, and in-laws.

Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956 - Explained

Who is Covered?

Chapter 1 (Section 1 - 3) introduces the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956, explaining its title, scope, and who it applies to:

Title and Scope: The act is known as the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, and it is valid across India.

  • The Act is applicable to individuals who identify with Hinduism in any form, including specific sects like Virashaiva, Lingayat, and followers of Brahmo, Prarthana, or Arya Samaj.
  • It also includes Buddhists, Jainas, and Sikhs.
  • Additionally, it applies to those who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsis, or Jews, unless it is shown that Hindu laws or customs would not have applied to them in matters covered by this Act before it was enacted.


  • A child (whether born in or out of wedlock) whose parents are both Hindus, Buddhists, Jainas, or Sikhs.
  • A child (whether born in or out of wedlock) with one parent belonging to any of these religions and has been raised in that community.
  • A child found abandoned without known parents who is raised in one of these religions.
  • Anyone who has converted or re-converted to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism.


  • The Act does not apply to members of any Scheduled Tribe as defined in the Constitution, unless the Central Government decides otherwise.
  • In this Act, whenever the term "Hindu" is used, it should be understood to include anyone who, even if not practicing Hinduism, falls under the scope of this Act as described earlier.

Section 3: Definitions

Section 3 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, provides definitions for various terms used throughout the Act. Some of the key definitions include:

Adoption: The act whereby a person takes another person as a son, daughter, or child according to the provisions of this Act.

Maintenance: Includes provisions for food, clothing, residence, education, and medical attendance and treatment. For a wife, it also includes the provision for her residence and maintenance during her lifetime or until her remarriage, in accordance with Section 18(3).

Minor: A person who has not completed the age of eighteen years.

Custom and Usage: Recognizes the importance of custom and usage in Hindu law, stating that the act does not derogate from any local custom or usage applicable to the parties.

This section is crucial for understanding the scope and application of the Act, providing a clear legal framework for terms that are frequently referenced.

Adoptions: Chapter II (Section 5, 6 & 7)

Chapter II of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, focuses on Adoption. This chapter outlines the legal framework for adopting children under Hindu law, detailing who may adopt, who may be adopted, and other conditions that govern a valid adoption. Below is a summary of the key provisions under Chapter II:

Adoptions must follow the law: After this law started, a Hindu can only adopt a child or be adopted by following the rules in this part of the law. If someone doesn't follow these rules, the adoption isn't recognized by law.

What happens if an adoption is not valid: If an adoption doesn't meet the legal requirements, it's as if the adoption never happened. This means the adopted person won't automatically get rights in the new family they would have gotten from a legal adoption, and they also keep any rights in their birth family.

Rules for a legal adoption: For an adoption to be legally recognized,

  • The person adopting must be mentally sound, not a minor, and must have the legal right to adopt.
  • The person giving the child for adoption must have the legal right to do so.
  • The child being adopted must be legally allowed to be adopted.
  • The adoption must meet other specific conditions set out in this part of the law.

When a male Hindu can adopt: A male Hindu who is mentally sound and not a minor can adopt a child. However, if he is married, he needs his wife's consent unless she has left Hinduism, has been legally declared mentally unsound, or has formally renounced the world.

This means adoptions among Hindus must follow specific legal requirements to be valid, protecting the rights of everyone involved, including the child being adopted, the adoptive parents, and the biological parents or family.

Capacity of a Female Hindu to Adopt: Any female Hindu who is mentally sound and not a minor can adopt a child. However, if she is married, she needs her husband's consent to adopt, unless the husband has renounced the world, is no longer a Hindu, or has been legally declared to be of unsound mind.

Who Can Give a Child in Adoption: Only the child's biological father, mother, or legal guardian can give the child for adoption. This ensures that the decision to give a child in adoption is made by those with the primary legal and moral responsibility for the child.

Equal Rights of Parents: Both the father and the mother have equal rights to give their child in adoption. However, one parent cannot give the child in adoption without the consent of the other, except in cases where the other parent has renounced the world, is not a Hindu anymore, or has been declared unsound by a court.

Role of Guardian in Adoption: If both parents are deceased, have renounced the world, abandoned the child, or been declared unsound by a court, or if the child's parentage is unknown, a legal guardian can give the child in adoption. The guardian needs the court's permission to do so, and the court must be convinced that the adoption is in the best interest of the child. The court will consider the child's wishes, depending on their age and understanding

Court's Role and Conditions for Adoption by Guardian: Before allowing a guardian to give a child in adoption, the court must ensure that the adoption benefits the child. The court will consider the child's preferences if they are old enough to express them. It's also important that the guardian has not received or agreed to receive any payment for the adoption, except what the court approves.

Definitions: The term "father" and "mother" refer to biological parents and do not include adoptive parents. A "guardian" is someone responsible for the child's care, either appointed by the parents' will or by the court. The "court" refers to the city civil court or district court in the area where the child lives.

This section ensures that adoptions are conducted legally and ethically, with the best interests of the child as the primary concern.

Who Can Be Adopted:

  • The person being adopted must be Hindu.
  • They must not have been previously adopted.
  • They should not be married, unless there's a specific custom that allows married individuals to be adopted.
  • They should be under 15 years of age, unless a custom allows for older individuals to be adopted.

Conditions for a Valid Adoption:

  • An adoptive parent cannot adopt a son if they already have a Hindu son, grandson, or great-grandson (whether biological or adopted).
  • An adoptive parent cannot adopt a daughter if they already have a Hindu daughter or son's daughter (whether biological or adopted).
  • There must be a minimum age difference of 21 years between the adoptive father and the adopted daughter, and between the adoptive mother and the adopted son.
  • A child cannot be adopted by more than one person at the same time.

The adoption process must involve the actual physical giving and taking of the child, intending to transfer the child from their birth family to their adoptive family. It's noted that performing a specific ritual (dattahomam) is not required for the adoption to be valid.

Effects of Adoption:

  • Once adopted, the child is considered the legitimate child of the adoptive parents for all purposes, starting from the date of adoption.
  • The adoption severs all legal ties between the child and their birth family, replacing them with new ties in the adoptive family.
  • However, the adoption doesn't allow the child to marry someone they couldn't have married if they remained in their birth family.
  • Any property owned by the child before adoption remains with the child, along with any obligations related to that property, including supporting relatives from the birth family.
  • The adoption doesn't take away any rights to property the child had before being adopted.

Right of Adoptive Parents to Dispose of Their Properties:

  • Adoptive parents retain the right to manage, transfer, or will their property as they see fit, unless there's a specific agreement that limits this right. Adoption does not restrict their ability to handle their own assets.

Determination of Adoptive Mother in Certain Cases:

  • If a married man adopts a child, his wife is automatically considered the child's adoptive mother.
  • If a child is adopted by a man with multiple wives, the wife who is senior in terms of marriage becomes the adoptive mother, while the others are considered step-mothers.
  • If a widower or a bachelor adopts a child and later marries, his new wife is regarded as the step-mother of the adopted child.
  • Similarly, if a widow or an unmarried woman adopts a child and later marries, her new husband is considered the step-father of the adopted child.

Valid Adoption Not to be Cancelled:

  • Once an adoption is validly made, it is permanent. Neither the adoptive parents nor the adopted child can cancel the adoption. The adopted child cannot renounce their adopted status to return to their birth family, emphasizing the finality and irrevocability of a lawful adoption.

CHAPTER III - Maintenance

The provisions for maintenance under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956. Here's an explanation in simpler terms:

Section 18: Maintenance of Wife

A Hindu wife is entitled to be maintained by her husband throughout her lifetime. This applies regardless of whether she was married before or after the commencement of this Act.

Conditions for Separate Living with Maintenance:

A wife can live separately from her husband without losing her right to maintenance if:

  • The husband abandons her without a valid reason.
  • She fears that living with her husband might lead to harm or injury due to his cruelty.
  • The husband has another wife living.
  • The husband keeps a concubine in the same house or habitually resides with a concubine elsewhere.
  • The husband has converted to another religion, ceasing to be a Hindu.
  • Any other reason that justifies her living separately.

Limitations: A wife is not entitled to maintenance if she is unchaste or if she converts to another religion.

Section 19: Maintenance of Widowed Daughter-in-Law

A widowed daughter-in-law is entitled to maintenance from her father-in-law after her husband's death, provided she can't support herself with her own earnings or property.


  • This obligation to maintain the widowed daughter-in-law is subject to the father-in-law's ability to provide from his property, specifically from any coparcenary property in his possession that the daughter-in-law hasn't received any share from.
  • The obligation ends if the daughter-in-law remarries.

Section 20: Maintenance of Children and Aged Parents

  • A Hindu is obligated to maintain his or her legitimate or illegitimate children and aged or infirm parents during their lifetime.
  • Both legitimate and illegitimate children can claim maintenance from their parents until they are minors.
  • The obligation extends to maintaining aged or infirm parents or an unmarried daughter, provided they cannot maintain themselves.

Section 21: Definition of Dependents

Lists who qualifies as dependants for the purposes of claiming maintenance under this chapter. This includes the deceased's father, mother, widow (until she remarries), son, or the son of a predeceased son or the son of a predeceased son's predeceased son, under specific conditions related to their ability to obtain maintenance from other family estates.

These sections collectively ensure a safety net for wives, children, and other dependants within the Hindu community, providing them with the right to maintenance under various circumstances.

Unmarried Daughters: This includes not only the daughter of the deceased but also the daughters of his predeceased sons (including the lineage down to great-grand-daughters), provided they remain unmarried and cannot maintain themselves either from their own or their ancestors' estate.

Widowed Daughter: A widowed daughter has a right to maintenance if she cannot sustain herself with the estate of her deceased husband or if possible, from her own children, or from her father-in-law's estate.

Widow of the Son or Grandson: Similar provisions apply to the widow of the deceased's son or grandson, emphasizing the condition that they do not remarry and are unable to maintain themselves from their husband's estate or their children's support.

Illegitimate Children: Minor illegitimate sons and unmarried illegitimate daughters of the deceased are also entitled to maintenance, emphasizing the inclusive approach towards the dependant's maintenance irrespective of their marital or legitimacy status.

Section 23 - Amount of Maintenance

The court has the discretion to decide the maintenance amount, considering several factors like the status of parties, the claimant's reasonable needs, and the claimant's and dependant's property and income.

Section 24 - Eligibility for Claiming Maintenance

Only those who remain Hindus are eligible to claim maintenance, highlighting the Act's applicability to Hindus and the impact of religious conversion on legal rights under it.

Section 25 - Alteration of Maintenance Amount

The maintenance amount can be revised if there's a significant change in circumstances, providing a mechanism to update maintenance obligations as situations evolve.

Section 26 - Priority of Debts

Debts owed by the deceased have priority over maintenance claims, ensuring creditors' rights are protected before dependants' maintenance is addressed.

Section 27 - Maintenance as a Charge on Estate

A dependant's maintenance claim becomes a charge on the deceased's estate only if specified by a will, court decree, agreement, or other means, delineating when maintenance obligations impact estate distribution.

Section 28 - Transfer of Property and Maintenance Rights

If the estate or part of it from which a dependant is entitled to maintenance is transferred, the dependant's right to maintenance can be enforced against the transferee, especially if the transfer was gratuitous or the transferee had notice of the maintenance right.

These provisions collectively ensure that dependants of a deceased Hindu are provided for, establishing a legal framework that balances the needs of dependants with the rights and obligations of heirs and estate transferees.

Landmark Judgments

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, is a significant piece of legislation that has addressed and continues to influence issues related to adoption and maintenance within the Hindu community in India. Beyond the notable judgments previously mentioned, the Act itself and the judicial interpretations around it serve multiple social and legal purposes. Here are additional insights into its broader implications and other related judgments:

Shabnam Hashmi vs Union of India (2014)

Citation: AIR 2014 SC 1281

This Supreme Court judgment held that any person, regardless of their religion, can adopt a child under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, as it provides a secular mechanism for adoption. The court observed that the Act does not mandate any compulsive action by any prospective adoptive parents but merely enables them to adopt a child if they wish and provides a legal framework for adoption. This judgment is significant because it allowed Muslim, Christian, and Parsi individuals to legally adopt children under a secular law, despite their personal laws not recognizing adoption.

Vineeta Sharma vs Rakesh Sharma (2020)

Citation: (2020) 9 SCC 1

This landmark judgment by the Supreme Court ruled that daughters would have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) properties, even if they were born before the enactment of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, and irrespective of whether their father was alive or not at the time of the amendment. This judgment ensured gender equality in terms of inheritance rights, reinforcing the daughters' rights to claim their share in ancestral property on an equal footing with sons.

Prakash & Ors vs Phulavati & Ors (2015)

Citation: (2016) 2 SCC 36

Before the Vineeta Sharma judgment, the Supreme Court in Prakash vs Phulavati had held that the rights under the amendment are applicable to living daughters of living coparceners as on 9th September 2005 (the date when the amendment came into force) and to any property partitioned thereafter. This interpretation was later overruled by the Vineeta Sharma judgment, which clarified that the rights of daughters are not dependent on the father's survival as of the amendment date.

Danamma @ Suman Surpur vs Amar (2018)

Citation: (2018) 3 SCC 343

In this case, the Supreme Court held that daughters would be entitled to share in the father's property by birth, and their share would be equal to that of a son. The judgment reiterated the rights of daughters to equal inheritance and clarified aspects related to their rights in coparcenary property.

Dipanwita Roy vs Ronobroto Roy (2014): In this case, the Calcutta High Court held that a wife is entitled to claim maintenance from her husband if he is found to be guilty of adultery, reinforcing the wife's right to maintenance under circumstances that lead to separation due to the husband's fault.

Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani & Ors. vs Union Of India & Ors. (1995): This landmark Supreme Court case wasn't directly related to the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act but had implications for Hindu marriage laws. The Court held that a Hindu husband, married under Hindu law, cannot adopt a second wife by converting to Islam as it amounts to an abuse of personal laws. This case highlighted the conflict between personal laws and the need for a uniform civil code.

Neelam vs Rajesh Mehta (2019): The Supreme Court, in this case, reiterated that a Hindu woman's right to maintenance is a "sacrosanct right". It also emphasized that the husband has a duty to maintain his wife, underlining the maintenance provisions' significance in providing financial security to women.

These judgments showcase the evolving nature of Indian jurisprudence concerning family law, especially in enhancing gender equality and fairness in inheritance and adoption matters. They have played a crucial role in interpreting the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, in the context of changing societal norms and the principles of justice, equity, and good conscience.


The Act and subsequent judicial interpretations, especially concerning inheritance rights and adoption, have played a crucial role in advancing gender equality within Hindu law. The acknowledgment of equal rights for daughters in coparcenary property and the possibility for women to adopt as single parents are steps towards reducing gender disparities.

The judgment in Shabnam Hashmi vs Union of India opened the door for individuals of any religion to adopt under a secular framework, thus promoting the welfare of children in need of care and protection across religious boundaries.

The Act clearly defines who is eligible for maintenance and under what conditions, providing a legal framework for dependents, especially women and children, to seek support. Courts have often interpreted these provisions to ensure fair and adequate maintenance, considering the evolving social standards and economic realities.

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, and the various judgments interpreting it, demonstrate the Indian judiciary's role in balancing traditional laws with the demands of modern justice, equity, and fairness. By addressing issues of gender equality, adoption rights, and maintenance obligations, these legal frameworks and judicial decisions contribute significantly to the evolution of family law in India, ensuring it reflects contemporary societal values and norms.




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Barristery.in: Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 - Explained
Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 - Explained
The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, is a significant piece of legislation in Indian family law that was enacted to amend and codify the law
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