Father legally bound to provide maintenance to child born out of interfaith marriage

Father legally bound to provide maintenance to child born out of interfaith marriage

J W Aragadan Vs Hashmi N S and Anr

Kerala HC

03/12/2021

MAT.APPEAL NO. 69 OF 2015

About/from the judgment:

The High Court has ruled that a father is legally obligated to provide maintenance for his child born out of an inter-faith marriage.

A Division Bench observed:

"We see no reason to deny the children born to an inter-faith couple legal right to claim maintenance from their father for the reason that there is no specific statutory provision mandating such a father to maintain his children. The caste, faith or religion cannot have any rational basis for determining the parental duty of a father. All the children have to be treated alike irrespective of the faith or religion professed by the parents."

The Court while clarifying that a son's entitlement in such matters will be till he attains the age of majority while that of the daughter will be till she is married, further added:

"Every child born to this world is entitled to be maintained. It is their right-both legal and moral...The duty to take care of the children has also been duly recognised as an enforceable obligation in the entire civilized society."

It was also ruled that an unmarried daughter born to an inter-religious couple is entitled to reasonable marriage expenses from her father.

Facts:

The first respondent was the daughter of the appellant herein (father) and the 2nd respondent (mother).

The appellant being a Hindu and the 2nd respondent being a Muslim had an inter-faith marriage in 1987, and the 1st respondent was born out of their wedlock.

In 2010, the daughter moved the Family Court against her parents seeking past and future maintenance, educational and marriage expenses under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956.

The appellant herein disputed his liability to pay the same and contended that the petition was not maintainable under the Act.

On analysis of evidence, the Family Court found that the daughter was brought up as a member of a Hindu family and inasmuch as the appellant is a Hindu, her plea invoking the Act was perfectly maintainable.

As such, on merits, the Family Court ruled that the daughter was entitled to all the reliefs claimed by her from her parents. The appellant moved the High Court challenging this order of the Family Court.

Questions Before the Court:

(i) Does the father of a child born out of an interfaith marriage have a legal obligation to maintain it in the absence of a statutory stipulation?

(ii) Is an unmarried daughter born to an interfaith couple entitled to marriage expenses from her father?

(iii) If yes, how would the quantum be determined?

Findings:

-> Daughter Not Raised As A Hindu

The Bench found fault with the finding of the Family Court that the daughter was brought up as a member of a Hindu community upon perusing the materials on record.

In the petition, the daughter had admitted that the appellant had left her mother when she was three years old. She was thereafter under her mother's custody and guardianship till her mother married another person in 1997. After this, she was brought up by her maternal grandparents, who are Muslims.

"Thus, it is clear that after three years of age, she was not brought up as a Hindu."

Furthermore, the daughter got married to a Muslim in 2012 which was solemnized according to Muslim rites. Their marriage invitation card proved the same.

According to the Court, all these records indicate that the daughter was brought up as a Muslim, and not a Hindu.

"Hence, the finding of the Court below that the first respondent was brought up as a member of the Hindu community and, therefore, the provisions of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 would apply cannot be sustained."

The Bench further noted that the Muslim Personal Law also cannot be applied since both parties are not Muslims.

-> Father Obliged To Provide Maintenance

Delving into the issue at hand, the Court found that there was no substantive law mandating a father of a child born out of an inter-religion marriage to maintain it. The Special Marriage Act, 1984 was also silent on this.

However, the Court noted that under the law, the custom and the statutes recognize the father as a natural guardian. He is entitled to the custody of the minor child's person and property. The Bench further found that the right to custody carries a duty to take care:

"The right necessarily carries with it a corresponding duty. Since the father is recognized as the guardian, he is under a duty to maintain and protect the child. The child being non sui juris, the State and the courts as Parens Patriae are bound to protect it."

Reliance was also placed on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to assert this stand.

The Court further relied on the decision in Mathew Varghese v. Rosamma Varghese (2003 KHC 362) where it was held that every father whatever be his religious denomination and faith has indisputable liability to maintain his child.

As such, it was held as follows:

"We, hence, hold that the children of an inter-faith couple are entitled to be maintained by their father. No doubt, son's entitlement is until he attains the age of the majority and that of daughters is until she gets married."

-> Daughter Entitled To Marriage Expenses

The daughter had sought apart from maintenance, medical expenses and marriage expenses.

The Bench noted that in Mathew Varghese case (supra) it was clarified that maintenance is the right of the child and such maintenance must include all expenses for the mental and physical well being of the child and so far as an unmarried daughter is concerned, her marriage is also something essential for the mental and physical well being of the child.

Therefore, it was held that an unmarried daughter born to an inter-religious couple is entitled to marriage expenses from her father.

-> Duty Of Father Only To Meet Reasonable Marriage Expenses

The daughter had claimed Rs. 25,00,000/- towards marriage expenses but was granted 14,66,860/- by the Family Court.

The Court noted that in our society, marriage is not a ceremony anymore. It added that gone are the days when marriages used to be austere:

"Extravagance has become the hallmark of marriages. The sacred occasion of marriages is now being considered as an appropriate opportunity to show off. Pompous marriage functions are trending, destination weddings keep on increasing. The wedding industry has become one of the biggest in the country – more than 10 million marriages take place every year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that a small intimate marriage ceremony with no celebration or even virtual wedding is possible."

Therefore, the Court added that the entitlement is only for reasonable expenses:

"No doubt, one is free to conduct marriage in whatever manner she/he wishes. But, an unmarried daughter cannot ask or compel her father to conduct marriage in a lavish or luxurious manner. Father cannot be fastened with the liability to bear the amount spent by the daughter lavishly according to her whims and fancies. Nor can the Court award marriage expenses without any basis."

The Bench further noted that the daughter had married according to Muslim rites and pointed out that Islam advocated simple marriage ceremonies.

Additionally, in Islam, there is no obligation for the father to offer money, gold or dowry to his daughter. Even the marriage feast is to be provided by the bridegroom and not by the bride's father.

Hence, it was found that there is absolutely no justification in directing the appellant to meet all the marriage expenses allegedly incurred by the first respondent especially the amount spent for the purchase of gold ornaments.

Considering that only 1,73,150/- was spent on other expenses except for gold, the Court granted a sum of `Rs.3,00,000/- finding it to be a just and reasonable amount towards the marriage expenses.

The amount granted by the Court below towards the marriage expenses was modified accordingly and the appeal was partly allowed as such.

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