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Maintenance for a Live-in Partner: A Detailed Analysis

In India, 'Marriage' is considered a sacred institution by which a legally recognised union is formed. This very 'institution' is no exception with regard to the evolution of the society concerned in various aspects. The line beginning from bigamous marriages to monologues and to the current era of live-in-relationships is evidentiary about the changes that the institution of marriage is subjected to.

This article is an answer to the status of live-in relationships in India and specifically the provision of maintenance in case the parties to such a relationship get separated, which, while originating, was followed by a critical question mark.

Introduction to the Concept:
"A man is considered to have married a woman if they have been living together as husband and wife for a reasonable period of time." – (Justice Malimath Committee of the Supreme Court of India.)

The statement mentioned supra gives a clear idea of the concept of a Live-in Relationship.

'Live-in-Relationship' refers to an arrangement formed by the consent of two people who decide to live together for a certain period which might even lead to a permanent extension, sharing an emotional bondage with one another on account of the existence of a sexually intimate relationship. This term is usually referred to 'unmarried couples'.

In simple terms, a live-in relationship refers to "Continuous cohabitation for a significant period of time, between partners who are not married to each other in a legally acceptable way and are sharing a common household."

The status of such a relationship was initially considered to be illegal in India since British Rule. But the intensity of the status has been lowered in major cities and towns but continues to be an unacceptable practice with the same rigidity and even more conservative values in rural areas and certain tribes.

Over time, this practice has been bolstered by certain legal developments in this regard, which, by way of 'constant efforts', have achieved its legality status. The most important reform as a part of these developments is the Maintenance for a Live-in Partner. The various reforms and developments in this context are dealt with in detail in the following sections of the article.

Legal Framework of the Concept:
In the context of marriage, it would be apposite enough to refer to the contemporary legal developments in this direction where live-in relationships have been given legal recognition in India. Sometimes such relationships face a taboo and are criticised widely in Indian society. Considering the unclear state of this practice in India, the Honourable Apex Court of the land has made it clear through many precedents on Live-in-Relationships.

Since the Privy Council, the presumption of the live-in-relationship concept has begun. This fact can be seen in the case of Andrahennedige Dinohamy vs. Wijetunge Liyanapatabendige Blahamy [1], where the Privy Council took a stand in favour of this practice and stated that "where a man and a lady are proved to have lived together as spouses, the law will presume unless the opposite is obviously demonstrated that they were living respectively in the result of a legitimate marriage, and not in a condition of concubinage."

In the landmark case of Lata Singh vs. The State of U.P (2006)[2], the court held that two consenting people of contrary sex living together in the same household without marriage does not amount to any offence under the law. Although there are no laws on live-in relationships, it has been made clear by the Apex Court of India that the practice of such Live-in relationships between couples cannot be considered illegal.

The Supreme Court of India, in the case of S. Khusboo vs. Kannaiammal & Anr[3], opined that "adults willingly engage in sexual relations outside the marital setting, no statutory offence takes place unless it is adultery, as defined under Section 497 of the IPC. The Court referred to its decision in Lata Singh vs. State of U.P (2006) and reiterated that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of heterogenic sex did not amount to any offence (with the obvious exception of adultery), even though it might be perceived as immoral."[4]

A man and a woman living in relationships in the nature of marriage are recognised as husband and wife even in the absence of any formal/customary rites/ ceremonies; vide Section 2(f) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.[5]

Maintenance for a Live-in-Partner:
With the discussed precedents of the Supreme Court in the previous section, it can be inferred that Live-in-Relationship is not recognised by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 or any other Statutory Law, but the point to be noted is that this act is not illegal in the eyes of the law.

The narrower interpretation of the term 'Wife' refers to "a Woman who is legitimately wedded to a Man". This refers to the persons belonging to a legal and valid marriage as recognised by the law of the land. In view of this interpretation of the term, only those women who were legally married were in the capacity to claim their rights as given under the Constitution of India.

But the judicial developments in this regard of late have developed a broader interpretation of the term 'Wife', which even includes those women who are living with a man as spouses but are not legally married to one another; the Supreme Court of India has held a similar decision in the case of Tulsa and Ors vs. Durghatiya, Badri Prasad vs. Dy. Director of Consolidation (1978).[6]

A few of the Supreme Court judgements have witnessed the issue as to whether expansive interpretation could be given to the terms "husband" and "wife" where parties have been living together for a reasonably long period of time without strict proof of marriage in compliance with the provisions of law. For instance, "Ceremonies for a Hindu Marriage" under the HMA, 1955[7] enables the solemnization of a Hindu Marriage in accordance with the procedures established and duly acceptable by the law.

In view of the context stated supra, The National Commission for Women in the year 2008 recommended to the Ministry of Women and Child Development that the definition of 'Wife' in Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is expanded to include women who live with their partners. The goal of the recommendation was to harmonise the legal provisions dealing with equalising the legal status of a live-in couple with that of a legally married couple.

The Malimath Committee appointed by the Supreme Court of India also brought up a proposal to broaden the ambit of the definition of 'Wife' in the Criminal Procedure Code by way of the new amendment to include 'a woman living with a man as if she were his wife.'

This legal development implies that a woman in a live-in relationship with a man is also entitled to "alimony" [Maintenance in the event of a divorce]. In the landmark case of Chanmuniya vs. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha and Anr[8], paragraph 42 of the judgement says that-

"We are of the opinion that a broad and expansive interpretation should be given in 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, and strict proof of marriage should not be a precondition for maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC, to fulfil the true spirit and essence of the beneficial provision of maintenance under Section 125. We also believe that such an interpretation would be a just application of the principles enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution, namely, social justice and upholding the dignity of the individual."

The Madras High Court, in the case of M Palani vs. Meenakshi [9], has held that if a sexual relationship between a man and a woman is established, this would be tantamount to their being married with the status of husband and wife. According to CS Karnan J, legal aspects should be placed on a higher scale than customary aspects and wedding solemnisation is only a customary rite and not a mandatory one.

In this case, the parties had been living together for a reasonably long period of time and had two children, they were in full capacity to enter into a marriage, and the father had duly signed on his child's birth reports and did give consent for caesarean section for the birth. According to the court, the parties had acquired the status of "husband" and "wife" in these circumstances.

In the case stated above, the revision petition was filed against the order of the Family Court, which had directed the petitioner to provide maintenance to the respondent in an application filed under Section 20, read with Section 26 of the Domestic Violence Act. The arguments of the petitioner were that there exists no conjugal relationship between them, nor did they live together at any point, and hence there never existed a 'domestic relationship' between them. Thus the respondent cannot be called as an 'aggrieved person' under Section 2(a) of the Domestic Violence Act and therefore is not eligible to file an application, thereby seeking maintenance.

The respondent argued that there was a close and intimate relationship between the parties thereto, and thus the petitioner is liable to maintain the respondent. The court, in this case, considered the pleadings of the parties, and after a thorough examination of the facts and evidence, the court held that the parties were in a close relationship with each other which even included cohabitation with one another.

In the case of D. Velusamy vs. D.Patchaiammal [10], it was observed by the Supreme Court that a woman in a live-in relationship is not qualified for maintenance unless she fulfils certain conditions. The most important observation made by the apex court in this matter is that couples spending weekends together or on a one-night stand wouldn't be considered being in a relationship in the nature of marriage.

A bench comprising of T S Thakur and Markandey Katju stated that a woman to get maintenance, if not married, must fulfil FOUR MAIN CONDITIONS as mentioned in the following section of the article.

Conditions to be satisfied by a woman in a Live-in Relationship for claiming Maintenance:
The following are the conditions to be satisfied by a woman in a live-in relationship so as to claim for maintenance in case of separation from their live-in partner:
  1. Such a couple must be of the legal age to marry.
  2. The couple must showcase themselves to society as to have been sharing a bond similar to the nature of that of a legally married couple.
  3. They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried to each other.
  4. There must voluntarily have had sexual intercourse for a significant and reasonable period of time.
The Court held that a 'relationship in the nature of marriage' under the Domestic Violence Act (DV Act) of 2005 must fulfil the above-stated conditions, and in addition, the parties must have lived together in a shared household as defined In Section 2 (s) of the Act:

Shared Household means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly and singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household .

A child born out of a live-in relationship is entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC akin to a woman partner in such a relationship. Such a child arising out of such relationships is considered to be a legitimate child and is entitled to receive maintenance from his/her father under the same section.

With reference to the condition stated above, in the landmark case of Champaben vs. State of Gujarat SCA/11087/2011. The petitioner and the respondent got into a live-in relationship once the respondent promised to marry the petitioner. In the course of the relationship, they had a baby together, which the respondent refused to accept. Under Section 125 of CrPc, the petitioner sought maintenance from her male partner for her child.

After certain appeals, the High Court gave a judgement in favour of the petitioner and directed the respondent to pay the amount of maintenance to the petitioner based on the order passed by the learned magistrate of the bench within two months from the date of the decree.

For the claim of maintenance to be valid, the precondition that parties of such a relationship shall not be legally married to some other person while pursuing such a relationship, which in the first place would amount to an offence relating to marriage as per the respective provisions under the Indian Penal Code, and such a relationship will be considered null and void.

Conclusion to the Concept:
Considering all the discussed facts, it can be said that despite the reforms in the context of live-in relationships and the legality of such relationships in India, this yet continues to be a sensitive change that waits for a time wherein all the people adapt and accept this practice in entirety. The judiciary has taken a tough stand in this regard, protecting this practice from landing on the darker portion.

The ambit of the developments in this context extends to the provision of maintenance for a live-in partner, as mentioned earlier. Section – 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has clearly specified the duty to provide maintenance to a wife/ minor children/ old age parents with a bona fide thought to avoid indigence and a piteous state of homelessness.

The Supreme Court of India took a wise stand in this regard; instead of adding a special provision for the Maintenance of a Live-in partner as an extension to Section - 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it was decided to broaden the scope of the definition of the term 'Wife' such that the rules applicable to the live-in partners would be akin to that of a legally married couple.

Though the very fact is that for a major change, especially in the case of a social norm like the adoption of the Western concept of Live-in relationship and the concerned aspect of the provision of 'maintenance' for a Live-in partner in a country like India which has a rich culture and varied heritage imbibed in its National Pledge, it is just the question of time and hope for this practice to achieve a complete status of acceptance in this land where morality is the first priority, irrespective of this fact, this practice has received the due support from the Law of the Land eventually executed by the Apex Court of the Nation in various relevant cases.

List Of Acronyms And Abbreviations:

 & And
vs versus
Anr. Another
Ors. Others
DV Domestic Violence
HMA Hindu Marriage Act
CrPC Code of Criminal Procedure
IPC Indian Penal Code
AIR All India Reporter
SCR Supreme Court Reports
SCC Supreme Court Cases
PC Privy Council
SCA Special Civil Application
S. Section
Mad. Madras

  1. A. Dinohamy vs. W. L. Blahamy AIR 1927 PC 185
  2. Lata Singh vs. The State of U.P (2006) 5 SCC 600 (India)
  3. S. Khusboo vs Kannaiammal & Anr (2010) 5 SCC 600 (India)
  4. V Venaktesan, 'Objection Overruled', Frontline, <> accessed on 19 November 2022.
  5. S.2, The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  6. Tulsa vs. Durghatiya, Badri Prasad vs. Dy. Director of Consolidation (1978) AIR 1557, 1979 SCR (1) 1
  7. S.7, The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
  8. Chanmuniya vs. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha and Anr. (2011) 1 SCC, 141.
  9. M Palani vs. Meenakshi, AIR 2008 Mad 162
  10. D. Velusamy vs. D.Patchaiammal (2010) 10 SCC 469

Written By: Amuktha Malyada Gudla,
BBA LLB (Hons.) School of Law, GITAM University Visakhapatnam

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