This article is written by Shraddha Jain, a law student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. This article discusses the legality of live-in relationships in India, as well as judiciary’s stance on the subject. This article summarises all of the important Supreme Court’s judgments concerning live-in relationships, the legality and rights of children born from such relationships, and several statutes that indirectly include such relationships.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
In India, the legality of live-in relationships is quite muzzled. Although live-in a relationship is neither a crime nor a sin, it is disapproved in Indian culture to some degree. In a nation like India, where weddings are seen as a societal foundation for legalising a man-woman connection, the notion of a live-in relationship has added a new dimension to the man-woman relationship.
With the passage of time and modernization, India’s social dynamics have seen a few favourable improvements. Several judgments have called into question the ancient notions of Indian society. Certain societal facts, however, remain unaccepted and are viewed through the perspective of patriarchy; a typical example is live-in relationships. While a portion of the Indian population has accepted it, a large fraction remains opposed to the notion. Even while films like “Luka Chhuppi” have helped to normalise it in Bollywood and local cinema, there is still some criticism.
There are various judgements on live-in relationships; some are progressive, while some give regressive statements as well. As a result of these recent contradictory judgments, we must examine prior rulings of various Indian courts to clear up any doubt on the subject. As a result, the purpose of this article is to look into the legal consequences of live-in relationships in India. It starts by looking into the definition, legality, and issues of live-in relationships. It then goes on to outline the benefits for partners who want to pursue a live-in relationship, such as the right to maintenance, the right to inherit property, and the validity given to children born from live-in partnerships, etc.
What is a live-in relationship
Although the term ‘live-in relationship’ is difficult to define, it refers to domestic cohabitation between two unmarried people. Live-in relationships are becoming increasingly prevalent among couples. However, it might be argued that the incidence is higher in metropolitan areas and tier-1 cities, particularly among upwardly mobile young people. Often, couples would enter into live-in relationships to test their compatibility before agreeing to marry. It allows them to better comprehend each other and make well-informed decisions on serious commitments like marriage.
Live-in relationships allow separation without the intervention of the state, which is especially important in countries like India, where divorce is frowned upon and stereotyped.
Pre-marital sex, on the other hand, is frowned upon in Indian society. As a result, couples living together before marriage are frequently regarded as culturally improper, unethical, and repugnant to societal standards. As a result, while some have publicly accepted the notion of live-in relationships, it nevertheless faces social resistance based on traditional attitudes.
Forms of live-in relationships in India
Live-in relationships may be roughly classified into three basic groups. This categorisation assists in determining if these categories come under the broad scope of the term ‘relationship in the nature of marriage.’
Continuing with the concept of ‘relationship in the nature of marriage,’ three scenarios challenge this phrase. The first possibility is domestic cohabitation between two unmarried heterosexual people. Second, adulterous live-in relationships. Finally, there are domestic relationships between same-sex couples.
The first sort of live-in relationship is the most popular, prevalent, and recognised, in which two unmarried heterosexual people deliberately reside. However, the majority of public hostility and legal concerns originate from the second and third scenarios listed above.
Rules to determine relationship in the nature of marriage
In the case of Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma (2013), the Supreme Court established the following rules to decide whether or not a relationship is ‘in the nature of marriage’:
Time period of the relationship
Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act uses the phrase “at any point in time,” which indicates a significant period of time to establish and maintain such a relationship, which might differ from situation to situation depending on the circumstances.
The term ‘shared household’ has been specified in Section 2(s) of the Domestic Violence Act and hence does not require additional explanation.
Financially supporting one another, or any of them, having shared bank accounts, obtaining immovable properties in joint names or in the name of the woman, long-term funding in companies, shares in joint ownership, in order to have a strong connection, could be a guiding factor.
Intentions and behaviours of the parties
The partners’ common aim toward their relationships, such as their individual duties and obligations, essentially defines the nature of that relationship.
Delegating responsibility, particularly to women, to manage the home and handle household chores is evidence of a marriage-like relationship.
Hanging out in society and interacting with friends, relatives, and others as if they really are a married couple is a significant situation to retain the relationship in the nature of marriage.
Main issues with live-in relationships
There are several issues regarding live-in relationships. These are as follows:
- Is Indian culture ready to embrace such a new type of relationship?
- What are the consequences of adopting or refusing such relationships for the continuation and advancement of society?
- Should new legislation be enacted in India to govern such relationships?
- What are the implications of legalising such a relationship for married couples?
- Should current rules governing the maintenance, guardianship, succession, and inheritance be changed to accommodate such relationships?
- What role does the Indian judiciary play in the development of such relationships?
So far, the Indian judiciary has been the most constant in recognising such relationships. However, in terms of protecting women’s claims in such relationships, the Indian judiciary stands ready to provide justice to the most vulnerable members of society.
Laws related to live-in relationships
Though the law is still ambiguous regarding the legality of such partnerships, a few rights have been provided by analysing and altering the laws so that the parties can avoid misusing such relationships. Several pieces of legislation are addressed below.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution safeguards the basic right to life and personal liberty, and it has been decided by various Supreme Court judgements like S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr (2010) that the right to life and personal liberty includes the right to cohabit without interruption.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
A domestic relationship is defined in Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as a relationship ‘in the nature of marriage’ between two people residing in a shared home. A domestic relationship is defined as a relationship between two individuals who reside or have resided together in a shared household at any period of time and are connected by consanguinity, wedding, or a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption, or are friends and family living together as a family group.
Live-in relationships have the characteristics of marriage because the partners live together for a long period of time and represent themselves as husband and wife. As a result, they fall under the purview of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and therefore, a woman in a live-in relationship can seek protection and maintenance under this Act. As a result, this Act legalises relationships other than marriage.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows a wife to seek maintenance from her spouse if he refuses to support her. If a woman is able to form a marriage-like connection, she is eligible to receive maintenance from that man because the court can make the assumption that such a relationship is a marriage and the woman is considered to be a wife. The primary goals of including live-in relationships under the purview of Section 125 are to safeguard women from domestic violence and to increase the legal threshold for partners in live-in relationships to the level of marriage. The Supreme Court expanded on this precedent from the guidelines of the Malimath committee appointed by the Home Ministry. The committee was chaired by Justice Malimath to make recommendations on the aforementioned proposition.
The Committee submitted its findings in 2009, proposing that the definition of alimony/maintenance under Section 125 be modified to enable women to obtain it. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State of Maharashtra and Anr (2009), that a woman is not required to prove marriage to seek maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC, meaning that a woman in a live-in relationship is also entitled to maintenance. This decision demonstrates our judiciary’s liberal and contemporary stance.
Legality of a live-in relationship
There is no explicit law or custom in India that governs live-in relationships. Thus, via decisions, the Supreme Court has expanded the notion of live-in partnerships and established rules for dealing with such relationships.
The Supreme Court first observed live-in relationships as legitimate in the case of Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation (1978). The Court said that under Indian law, a live-in relationship between consenting adults is legal if the requirements of marriage, such as legal age of marriage, consent, and soundness of mind, are met. No rule permits or bans such connections.
In the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P. (2006), the Supreme Court ruled that, although live-in relationships are considered unethical, they are not illegal under the legislation.
In another well-known case, S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that living together is a right to life protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and thus, despite being considered immoral by society, it is not an offence under the law.
In Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma (2013), the Supreme Court held that if both partners are unmarried and enter into a mutual relationship, it does not constitute an offence.
The same kind of observation was made in the judgement of Badri Prasad v. Deputy Director Consolidation (1978) as well as in the case of SPS Balasubramanian v. Suruttayan (1993), that if a man and a woman have resided together for a long duration of time, the legislation will assume them to be legally married unless the reverse is proven. A strong assumption favours marriage, but it is arbitrable, and the person contradicting it bears the burden of proof. Furthermore, children born from such a relationship would be eligible to inherit from the parent’s properties.
Recent High Court judgements
Gulza Kumari v. State of Punjab
Justice H.S Madaan stated in Gulza Kumari v. State of Punjab (2021) that the non-marital relationship is not culturally or morally justifiable. As a result, the petition was rejected. The Supreme Court has affirmed the legitimacy of live-in relationships in several cases, but in Gulza Kumari, the Court failed to consider the precedent, which is the rule of the court as it was provided by the top court of the nation. For the proper reasons, the Gulza Kumari v. State of Punjab (2021) ruling has garnered a lot of criticism. Within weeks following this verdict, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana announced another decision, but with a totally opposite result.
In Pushpa Devi v. State of Punjab (2021), the petitioners, a female around the age of 21 and a boy around the age of 19, requested the court’s protection to safeguard their live-in relationship from their families, who have been willing to kill them just for family reputation. They were unable to marry because one of the applicants, a boy, had not reached the legal marriage age of 21.
The Court, through Justice Arun Kumar, awarded the petitioners the right to life and personal liberty on the grounds that both applicants have reached the age of majority and have the freedom to choose. This case appears to emphasise the significance of reaching the age of majority and how it alters the manner in which legal protection is conferred.
Rohit Kumar v. State of U.T. Chandigarh
In Rohit Kumar v. State of U.T. Chandigarh (2022) and others, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has urged the Union Government to outline its plan for dealing with live-in relationships. Noticing that no Act controls these relationships and that once an individual has achieved majority in terms of the Majority Act, 1875 (i.e., 18 years of age), it would be challenging for a court to refuse the validity of a live-in relationship, the Bench of Justice Amol Rattan Singh tried to seek a response from the centre by stating, “…what is recommended is to make sure that too many youngsters with developing minds (not properly matured though they otherwise, theoretically, are of the majority age in terms of the aforementioned Act) would not start living together and end up regretting such choices in life, causing major trauma to their parents and loved ones.”
Abhishek Chouhan v. State of Madhya Pradesh
In the case of Abhishek Chouhan v. Madhya Pradesh State (2022), the Madhya Pradesh High Court described live-in relationships as a by-product of the constitutional provision guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, observing that such relationships foster sexual activity and lascivious behaviour, giving rise to sexual crimes.
The Court concluded that, with some exclusions, India has a conservative culture that has not yet achieved such a advanced level of civilization where unmarried girls, irrespective of their religion, participate in lascivious activities with boys only for the entertainment, unless supported by certain future promise of marriage, and that, to confirm her point, a victim should not be required to rely on committing suicide as in the current case.
Legality and rights of children born from a live-in relationship
Children born from void and voidable marriages are given legality under Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and Section 26 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The right of inheritance of such children is confined to the parents’ properties only. Such children do not have coparcenary rights in the property of the Hindu undivided family and thus cannot claim their parents’ ancestral property.
Children born from live-in relationships were granted legal validity in S.P.S. Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan (1993). According to the Supreme Court, if a man and a woman reside in the same house and cohabit for a significant period of time, there is a presumption of marriage under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. As a result, their children will be recognised as legitimate and eligible to inherit a portion of the family estate.
In Bharatha Matha v. Vijaya Renganathan (2010), the Supreme Court gave children born from live-in partnerships a portion of their parents’ property. The Court ruled that children born in live-in relationships may not be considered illegal if the relationship lasts long enough.
Right to a visa in a live-in relationship
In the case of Svetlana Kazankina v. Union of India (2015), the Supreme Court addressed the question of extending a visa to an Uzbekistan national who was in a live-in relationship with an Indian man. The respondents claimed that the refusal of visa extensions was due to the fact that the relevant rules only enable such extensions on certificates of marriage and not in the situation of live-in relationships. The Court emphasised that the rules which allow the extension of visas to foreigners married in India are made with the objective that such couples would enjoy friendship, love, and devotion. The Court stated that marriages and live-in relationships should not be regarded differently when granting a visa extension, citing that they are now a reality of life.
By all indications, we may infer that the notion and legal recognition of a live-in relationship in our country have only grown through time, with many judgments by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the High Courts playing the most important role. Marriage is seen as a spiritual connection that is recognised as well as highly appreciated in the public sphere. The courts have served as a regulator to remove the taboo in society and allow couples to continue living peacefully with each other and with equal respect in the community.
In India, there is no specific law for live-in relationships. A live-in relationship, although recognised by the judicial system, lacks cultural approval and remains stigmatised. Proper legal enactment is essential to safeguard the rights and interests of such parties.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it unlawful in India for unmarried couples to live together?
Two people who cohabit and establish a live-in relationship are not criminals. This means that, although live-in relationships are culturally unacceptable in some regions of India, they are neither a criminal offence nor a sin.
Is a certificate required for a live-in relationship?
A certificate is not required. In India, living together is not unlawful. However, you can register your relationship by marrying. Otherwise, no certificate is required.
- IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 19, Issue 12, Ver. IV (Dec. 2014), PP 28-38 e-ISSN: 2279-0837, p-ISSN: 2279-0845.
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