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Live-in-relationship: Legal Status with Judiciary Recognition

It is truly observed that our society emerges day by day, generation to generation. Even people are slowly and gradually opening their minds towards the idea of pre-marital sex and live-in relationships. Live-in- relationships means when two people living together without intending to establish any kind of permanent relationships between them.

This improved mindset is a result of globalisation and literacy increasing rate. Moreover, for most of us – it is not an escape from responsibilities but a way to understand our partner and to check if at all we are compatibility. In such type of relationships, compatibility is much essential than commitment. There is no law tying them together, and consequently, either of the partners can walk out of the relationship, as and when they want. There is no binding upon them.

This kind of relationships has emerged primarily out of convenience. Hence the mentality of such couples is that marriage is just a wastage of money and with full of social drama. Moreover, they believe that their love does not need any paper certification. However, this change has been continuously under criticism and highly discussed as such concepts lack legality and acceptance by society.

With society, our Legal system also evolved because Law has been playing a vital role in social change. For instance, let's take the case of decriminalisation of homosexual cohabitation. The recent judgements, like the decriminalizing section 377 and 497 of the IPC, shows how the Indian laws have also evolved along with society.

What is the meaning of live-in Relationship?

The idea of live-in relationship evolves from the broadened mindset of the people who started to crave for a relationship with no-strings-attached. A living relationship couple is the ones who cohabit, with no expectations being the bottom line. However, there is no legal definition to describe the concept in Indian law.

It is more of a westernised theory with very less relevance with the Indian tradition. So the Supreme Court, at various instances taken the liberty to elaborate on the concept through their judgements. It is different from a marriage. (Marriage or wedlock or matrimony, is a socially/ritually acknowledgeable union of a couple). Live-in relationship partners don't force on obligations.

When asked if a live-in relationship is good or bad, there is no proper explanation on if it is good or bad. It merely depends on the person and one's personality on looking from a different perspective. People ought to believe that when living together, they can understand each other better and also for many other reasons, which cannot be denied.

Main Issues regarding Live-in-relationships:

  • whether the Indian society is prepared to accept such a new kind of relationship?
  • what are the repercussions of accepting or rejecting of such relations on the continuity and progress of the society?
  • should the new law be made in India to regulate such kind of relationship?
  • what are the consequences of the legalization of such a relationship on married partners?
  • should the existing laws relating maintenance, guardianship, succession and inheritance be amended to accommodate such relationships?
  • what is the role of Indian Judiciary in the sphere of emerging of such relationships?


The trend of Indian Judiciary is so far most consistent with regard to recognition of such relationships. But insofar as the protection of the claims of women in such relations is concerned, the Indian Judiciary firm stands to render justice to the vulnerable section of the society.

Laws related to such relationships:

Live-in relationships, being an alien concept to the Indian legislature does not have any legal implications for the couples who live together without marriage involved in the relationship.
There is no legal definition of live-in relationship and in this way, the lawful status of such sort of connections is likewise unverified. The Indian law does not give any rights or obligations to the parties of live-in relationships. However, the court has clarified the concept of live-in relationship through various judgments.

Though the law is still unclear about the status of such relationship yet few rights have been granted by interpreting and amending the existing so that misuse of such relationships can be prevented by the partners. Various legislations are discussed below—

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 Section 16 of this Act confers the legitimacy of a child born out of the void and voidable marriages and establishes their succession and property rights. This Act also confers the legal status of a married couple. As Live-in relationships were legally considered void-ab-initio.

But in a judgement in 1978, such relationships are valid for the first time because of the Supreme Court. If the requisites of a marriage such as mental soundness, the fulfilment of the legal age of marriage, consent, etc. are all satisfied, the couple is considered to be in a legal live-in-relationships. The couple is also regarded as married if they live together for a considerably long period until proven otherwise.

Domestic Violence Act, 2005 This is the first Act to recognize non-marital adult heterosexual relations. The act was enforced as an attempt to protect women from abusive (physical, mental, verbal or economic) marital relationships. However, as per Section- 2 (f), it not only applies to a married couple, but also to a relationship in the nature of marriage. Therefore, considering all this even the Supreme Court in a couple of cases has allowed live-in relationships to be covered within the ambit of the law specified.

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 Section 125 CrPC was incorporated in order to avoid vagrancy and destitution for a wife/minor children/old age parents, and the same has now been extended by judicial interpretation to partners of a live-in relationship.[1] A female has been in a live-in relationship for a sensible period of time, she ought to have the legitimate privileges as that a of a spouse and can claim maintenance under Section 125 CrPC.[2]

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872- The court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being given to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in relation as to the facts of the particular case. Therefore, where a man and a lady live respectively for a long spell of time as a couple then there would be an assumption of marriage.[3]

Indian Judiciary recognition to Live-in-relationships:

With changing social norms of legitimacy in every society, including ours, what was illegitimate in the past may be legitimate today.- Honourable Justice A.K. Ganguly[4]

Indian judiciary has taken a lead to fill the gap that was created in the absence of any specific statute relating to live-in relationships. It may be considered immoral in the eyes of society but it is not at all illegal in the eye of the law. The main aim is to render justice and prevent a miscarriage of Justice. Therefore, while deciding various cases, the judiciary has kept in mind various factors including both societal norms and constitutional values.

The Allahabad High Court recognised the concept of live-in relationship in Payal Sharma v. Nari Niketan[5], wherein the Bench consisting of Justice M. Katju and Justice R.B. Misra observed that In our opinion, a man and a woman, even without getting married, can live together if they wish to. This may be regarded as immoral by society, but it is not illegal.

Thereafter, in Ramdev Food Products (P) Ltd. v. Arvindbhai Rambhai Patel[6], the Court observed that two people who are in a live-in relationship without a formal marriage are not criminal offenders. This judgment then was made applicable to various other cases.

Lata Singh v. State of U.P. and Anr.[7] The Apex court held that live-in-relationships is permissible only in unmarried major persons of heterogeneous sex.

Radhika v. State of M.P.[8]The Apex Court observed that a man and woman are involved in live-in-relationship for a long period, they will be treated as a married couple. And their child would be called legitimate.

Abhijit Bhikaseth v. State of Maharashtra and Anr.[9] The Apex court also observed that it is not necessary for a woman to strictly establish the marriage to claim maintenance under section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Chellamma v. Tillamma[10] The Apex court gave the status of wife to the partner of live-in-relationship. Justice Katju and Justice Mishra stated that, in their opinion, a man and a woman, even without getting married, can live together if they wish to.

Madan Mohan Singh and Anr. v. Rajni Kant[11] The Apex Court held that entering into live-in-relationship cannot be an offence.

A special 3-Judge Bench constituting the Chief Justice of India, K.G.Balakrishnan and Justice Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan observed that When two people want to live together, what is the offence in it? Does it should be amount to an offence?

In the landmark case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal[12], the Supreme Court held that a living relationship comes within the ambit of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court further held that live-in relationships are permissible and the act of two major living together cannot be considered illegal or unlawful.

On 26-11-2013 a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court constituting of K.S.P. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose, JJ. in the case Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sara[13] held that when the woman is aware of the fact that the man with whom she is in a live-in relationship and who already has a legally wedded wife and two children, is not entitled to various reliefs available to a legally wedded wife and also to those who enter into a relationship in the nature of marriage as per provisions of Pwdva, 2005.

But in this case, the Supreme Court felt that denial of any protection would amount to a great injustice to victims of illegal relationships. Therefore, the Supreme Court emphasised that there is a great need to extend Section 2(f) which defines domestic relationships in Pwdva, 2005 so as to include victims of illegal relationships who are poor, illiterate along with their children who are born out of such relationships and who do not have any source of income.[14]

Further, the Supreme Court requested Parliament to enact new legislation based on certain guidelines given by it so that the victims can be given protection from any societal wrong caused by such relationships.

Lately, a landmark judgment on 8-4-2015 by the seat comprising of Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice Amitava Roy in the case Dhannulal v. Ganeshram[15], the Supreme Court decided out that couples living in a live-in relationship will be presumed legally married. The Bench also added that the woman in the relationship would be eligible to inherit the property after the death of her partner.[16]

Conclusion:
Illegality is different from immorality. People may regard live-in-relationships as immoral, but that is their own perception which cannot be allowed to influence anyone else's personal decision. In such type of relationships, the individual should be free to live as they think best, subject only to the limitation that their actions and choices should not cause harm to others. In order to bring justice, women must be protected by the courts in a similar way as from the patriarchal power that defines marriage, which covers these relationships too.

As there is no proper legislation directly dealt with live-in-relationship. As per the author's view, there must be separate legislation for such relationships which provide certain rights and liabilities to such couples. Moreover, it protects the legal status of living partners, their children born out of such a relationship and the other persons who may get affected. Not all live-in-relationships should be given legitimate status, it must be subject to proper guidelines and requirements.

End-Notes:

  1. Ajay Bhardwaj v. Jyotsna, 2016 SCC P&H 9707.
  2. Justice V.S. Malimath Committee Report,2003.
  3. S. 114 of the Evidence Act, 1872.
  4. Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun (2011) 11 SCC 1.
  5. 2001 SCC OnLine All 332.
  6. (2006) 8 SCC 726.
  7. AIR 2006 SC 2522.
  8. AIR 1972 MP 124.
  9. 2009 CRI.L.J. 889.
  10. AIR 2009 SC 112.
  11. (2010) 9 SCC 209.
  12. (2010) 5 SCC 600.
  13. (2013) 15 SCC 755.
  14. Ibid
  15. (2015) 12 SCC 301.
  16. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Couple-living-together-will-be-presumed-married-Supreme-Court-rules/articleshow/46901198.cms

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