Father Can’t Abdicate His Responsibility Of Looking After Unmarried Daughters, Obligated To Take Care Of Their Education & Marriage Expenses: Delhi HC

While acknowledging the father’s huge role in fulfilling the aspirations of their daughters, the Delhi High Court in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Poonam Sethi vs Sanjay Sethi in MAT.APP.(F.C.) 31/2021 that was delivered on January 7, 2022 has minced just no words to lay down in no uncertain terms that a father cannot abdicate his responsibility of looking after his unmarried daughters and that he has a duty and obligation to maintain them, including taking care of their expenses towards education and marriage. It must be apprised here that a Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh also maintained that ‘Kanya Daan’ is a solemn and pious obligation of a Hindu father, from which he cannot renege. It also must be noted that the Delhi High Court also directed the father to pay a sum of Rs 35 lakhs and Rs 50 lakhs towards the expense of marriages of his two daughters.

To start with, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Justice Jasmeet Singh for a Bench of Delhi High Court comprising of himself and Justice Vipin Sanghi sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “The present appeal has been filed under Section 28(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 read with Section 19 (1) of the Family Courts Act, 1984 against the judgment and order dated 28.11.2020 passed by the Family Court (West) in the matter of Poonam Sethi Vs. Sanjay Sethi in HMA No. 39/2017. In the impugned judgment, the Family Court has allowed the petition filed by the Appellant wife under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for dissolution of marriage by a decree of divorce on the ground of cruelty and has dissolved the marriage between the parties. However, the Appellant is aggrieved by the non-grant of maintenance allowance for herself and the two major daughters of the parties.”

While briefly stating the facts which gave rise to the filing of the present appeal, the Bench then observes in para 4 that, “The Appellant got married to the Respondent on 11.10.1986 as per Hindu rites and ceremonies. Since marriage, the Appellant was residing with the Respondent at First Floor, F-90 Kirti Nagar, New Delhi. Out of the wedlock, 3 children were born, namely Sahiba (DOB-03.11.1987), Ananya (DOB- 28.08.1994) and Atharv (DOB11.07.1997). The eldest daughter Sahiba is currently working in London after completing her graduation in Fashion Journalism from London. The other children, namely, daughter Ananya and son Atharv are in Appellant’s sole care and custody.”

While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then states in para 5 that, “It is the case of the Appellant that for the past 9 – 10 years, all 3 children were brought up by the Appellant single handedly, including taking care of their food, clothes, education, tuitions, travelling, extracurricular activities, entertainment, sports, medical needs etc. without any contribution from the Respondent.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then remarked in para 6 that, “It is the case of the Appellant that owing to the abdication of duties by the Respondent since the year 2010, the Appellant started crumbling under the financial burden of supporting their 3 children all on her own, without any financial relief for such a long period.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisaged in para 7 that, “It is in this background, that the Appellant filed an application for maintenance pendente lite on 19.03.2015 under Section 24 read with Section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 for herself and her minor son. The Appellant also filed a detailed income affidavit along with the relevant documents. After the judgment of Kusum Sharma vs. Mahender Sharma, the Appellant again filed a detailed income affidavit on 11.12.2015, along with supporting documents including bank statements and invoices.”

As it turned out, the Bench then enunciated in para 16 that, “We heard Mr. Bhuvan Mishra, learned counsel for the Appellant and Mr. Anshul Narayan, learned counsel for the Respondent. The learned counsel for the Appellant argued that the Appellant-wife has been supporting all three children for more than a decade, taking care of all their expenses and needs. He submits that under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 it is the obligation of the husband to maintain his wife and unmarried daughters. Thus, since the Appellant-wife has been maintaining the daughters, she is entitled to claim maintenance for herself, and her unmarried daughters.”

To be sure, the Bench then mentions in para 17 that, “He has relied on Jasbir Kaur Sehgal v. The District Judge, Dehradun (1997) 7 SCC 7, wherein the Supreme Court observed that the wife who is maintaining the unmarried major daughter of the parties, would be entitled to maintenance for both herself and the major unmarried daughter. He submits the daughters must be treated as ‘dependants’ under section 21(v) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 and as a result are entitled to receive maintenance from their father. The mother has been taking care and looking after all the expenses of the 3 children since the time of separation, and the father cannot abdicate from his legal and moral duties.”

Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 24 that, “Section 20 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance and Act reads as follows:

“20. Maintenance of children and aged parents. —

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section a Hindu is bound, during his or her lifetime, to maintain his or her legitimate or illegitimate children and his or her aged or infirm parents.

(2) A legitimate or illegitimate child may claim maintenance from his or her father or mother so long as the child is a minor.

(3) The obligation of a person to maintain his or her aged or infirm parent or a daughter who is unmarried extends in so far as the parent or the unmarried daughter, as the case may be, is unable to maintain himself or herself out of his or her own earnings or other property.

Explanation. — In this section “parent” includes a childless step-mother.””

As we see, the Bench then stipulates in para 29 that, “Firstly, we must take note that under Section 20 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, maintenance will only be paid to children or infirm parents, if they are unable to maintain themselves. There is no section which states that the inability to maintain themselves (both with regard to children and parents) is equivalent to not earning an income. We must distinguish between the two categories. An individual could be earning an income, but still not necessarily be able to maintain herself/himself.”

Most significantly, the Bench then holds in para 34 that, “A bare perusal of the aforesaid observation clearly shows that be it under Section 24 of the HMA Act, 1955, or Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, a father cannot abdicate his responsibility of looking after his unmarried daughters. A father has a duty and an obligation to maintain his daughters and to take care of their expenses, including towards their education and marriage. This obligation is legal and absolute in character and arises from the very existence of the relationship between the parties. Kanya Daan is a solemn and pious obligation of a Hindu Father, from which he cannot renege.”

Needless to say, the Bench then points out in para 35 that, “Despite the applications of the Appellant being pending for claiming maintenance for the unmarried daughters, the Family Court, in the impugned order, failed to advert to any of the contentions of the Appellant. The Family Court has not dealt with aspect of applicability of Jasbir Kaur Sehgal (supra) in the facts of the present case.”

Furthermore, the Bench then pulls back no punches in pointing out in para 36 that, “The Family Court, without adverting to the evidence and documents on record, in a cryptic manner, has held that Section 20 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 cannot be used to expand the provisions of Section 26, and hence major daughters of the parties are not entitled to maintenance. This view is clearly not supported by the precedents taken note of hereinabove.”

Of course, the Bench then reveals in para 37 that, “As regards the minor son, the Family Court has granted maintenance at the rate of Rs. 25,000/- per month from 19.03.2015 till 11.07.2015 i.e. the date of attaining majority by the son.”

Quite rightly, the Bench then concedes graciously in para 39 that, “The Family Court has held that the Petitioner is herself not entitled to any maintenance allowance or permanent alimony, as she was doing well professionally, and earning substantial sums of money. As far as the finding vis-à-vis the Appellant wife is concerned, we uphold the judgment of the Family Court, and are of the view that there is sufficient material on record, as well as the income affidavit of the Appellant, which shows her to be engaged in the profession of tarot reading. While her total resources, as taken note by the learned Family Court, amounted to Rs.67 lacs, her income affidavit of the year 2019-2020, shows an income to the tune of Rs. 11,66,770/-per annum.”

Without mincing any words, the Bench then clearly holds in para 40 that, “However, as regards the daughters, we are not in agreement with the learned Principal Judge, Family Court when it holds that as the daughters were majors on the date of filing the application, they were not entitled to any maintenance. The daughters may be of majority age today. However, the Respondent is still their father. He cannot simply resile from that relationship, and the accompanying legal and moral obligation, and state that he will not take care of them. The father’s duty to maintain his unmarried daughters, including his duty to provide for their marriage is clearly recognized by the law.”

While taking potshots at the contentions of the respondent and rejecting it, the Bench then holds in para 41 that, “The argument of the learned counsel for the Respondent that the daughters should not receive any maintenance as they have an income cannot be accepted. In this regard, Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act may be seen. It provides for the maintenance of children and aged parents. An unmarried daughter, even if employed and earning, cannot be assumed to have sufficient resources to meet her matrimonial expenses. In the Indian context, the marriage of a son or a daughter would be expected to be performed, in keeping with the financial and social status of the parents. It is customary for the parents of the son/daughter– who is getting married, to deploy their resources for the wedding, to the best of their financial capacity. This is particularly true when marrying of a daughter, as the parents try to ensure that she is well provided for in the matrimonial home when she would begin her new life. In the Indian society, the marriage of a daughter is considered of paramount importance from the birth of the child. Parents from the very beginning start saving jewellery and money for the marriage of their daughters.”

It is worth noting that the Bench then makes it clear in para 58 that, “For the last 11 odd years, the Appellant-wife has been providing for the children. Simply because she has done so and is presently also presumably doing so, cannot relieve the Respondent- husband from his obligations as a father.”

In hindsight, the Bench then observes in para 59 that, “Relying on observations of Jasmeet Kaur Talwar & Anr. (supra), we note that a certain amount of guesswork is required for determining the financial status of the Respondent. In view of what has been stated by us hereinabove, we direct that an amount of Rs. 35 lakhs be paid towards marriage expenses of the elder daughter, namely, Sahiba. As Sahiba is earning a certain income, she will require a lesser sum than her sister, as she herself would also be in a position to contribute to her wedding expenses.”

Going ahead, the Bench then directed in para 60 that, “Further, an amount of Rs. 50 lakhs to be paid for the marriage expenses of the younger daughter, namely, Ananya. As the younger daughter Ananya is not earning any income, and is dependent on her parents for the expenses of her marriage, that is already scheduled, she will require the sum urgently.”

What’s more, the Bench then also directed in para 61 that, “The amount of Rs. 50 lakhs, for the younger daughter Ananya, must be paid within 1 week from the date of this order, and the amounts for the other daughter Sahiba (Rs. 35 lakhs) to be paid within 6 weeks from the date of passing of this order. The said amount shall be kept by Sahiba in a fixed deposit, to be utilized at her wedding.”

Finally and far most commendably, the Bench then concludes by holding in para 64 that, “The bond between a parent and his child, particularly between a father and his daughter, is one of the strongest bonds that any two human beings can have. Even when this bond is weakened due to unfortunate past incidents, in our view, there is nothing to prevent the said bond being restored because, deep inside, both the daughter and the father are bound to have that natural and inherent love for each other. It only requires the layers of anger, hurt and ego to be brushed aside to expose the pure love & affection which a father and his daughter share. We sincerely hope that the Respondent and his daughters would make the required effort to restore their relationship, even if their parents have fallen apart. The Respondent should realise that he is the only person whom his daughters can look upto as their father. To have a father, and not to be able to talk to him or go to him for advice or financial or moral support and guidance, must be very painful for the two daughters. Similarly, it would be very depressing for the Respondent to have two daughters, and not to be able to spend time with them, and receive love, care and affection from them. We have no doubt that if the relationship between the parties had not soured, the Respondent would have done everything for his daughters, and would have dotted on them. We are hopeful that the appellant would also play a positive role in bridging the gap between the Respondent and his daughters – who are now grown-up, and there is no reason for her to come in the way of the relationship of his daughters and their father. We, therefore, expect that as and when the daughters of the parties get married, the Respondent would happily participate in the functions, and the appellant, the children and other family members would respectfully and gracefully, with love & affection, welcome him to the functions and facilitate his participation in the functions wholeheartedly. With these words, we dispose of the present appeal.”

In sum, this notable judgment by the Delhi High Court is most commendable and is certainly worth implementing at the earliest. It makes  clear that a father can’t abdicate responsibility of looking after his unmarried daughters and is obligated to take care of their education and marriage expenses. There can be just no denying it!

Sanjeev Sirohi,

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