This article is written by Sharad Yadav from the Institute of Law, Nirma University. This article will help you to understand the views taken by various courts in India for live-in relationships; also this article will help you to understand live-in relationships from an international perspective.
Table of Contents
A live-in relationship is an arrangement between two people who want to live together without getting married. Today many couples live together before their marriage for various reasons, such as checking whether they are compatible with each other or not. We have seen cases where couples seek divorce after getting married because they were not aware of certain things about one another or could not live together. In India, there is no specific legislation to regulate the matters of live-in relationships. In many countries, laws related to live-in relationships are still vague. Different courts are taking different views on similar issues related to such relationships.
Marriage versus live-in relationship
Today’s India is changing at a very fast pace, and something that was socially unimaginable, like a live-in relationship that was taken up by western society, is now gradually being followed by the people in India. The laws, as well as the society, were traditionally biased in favour of marriage. The law preserves many rights and privileges for a married person but if a person is in a live-in relationship, then these rights and privileges may not be available to them. These couples can face some of the same legal issues as married couples as well as some issues that their married friends are never acquainted with. Live-in relationships are mainly followed by the elite class people. If the rights of a wife and live-in partner become equivalent, then it will lead to an increase in the cases of bigamy. It will also increase the conflicts between the couples.
Sanjay and Anr. v. State of Haryana & Ors. (2021)
In this case, while granting protection to a couple, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stated that a live-in relationship is not a new thing, but today’s society has not been able to evolve to the extent of accepting the concept of such type of relationship without raising their eyebrows. The case was filed by a boy and girl aged 18 and 19 respectively for giving direction to provide protection to them. They met on social media and decided to marry each other. The Court stated that the Supreme Court and various High Courts have accepted live-in relationships and have granted them protection by virtue of the principles enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Court, while relying on the case of Nandakumar v. State of Kerala (2018), stated that the legislature recognizes a live-in relationship under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
In this case, the Court considered the contention raised by the petitioners in the representation and ordered the police to protect them if there is any potential threat to them.
Soniya and Anr. v. State of Haryana and Ors. (2018)
This case was filed by a girl aged 22 years and a boy aged 19 years who decided to live together after the girl’s parents started forcing her to marry a person of their choice. They decided to live together till they could marry each other (after the boy attains 21 years of age). Petitioner stated that their relationship would not be accepted because they belong to different castes. Both approached the Superintendent of Police (SP) to seek protection, but they did not get any response. Fearing for their life from their family members, they decided to file a case.
The Court observed in this case that the petitioner did not approach this Court for seeking permission to marry or approval, but they approached the Court to seek protection. After noting that Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides its citizens with the right to life and personal liberty, the Court stated, “Once an individual who is major has chosen their partner, it is not for any other person, even their family members, to object and cause hindrance to their peaceful life”.
The Court stated that one could not ignore the danger of honour killings, which is so prevalent in our country, especially in the northern regions, particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana. When people decide to marry without their parents’ consent or outside their caste or religion, honour killing happens. The Court stated, “if a petitioner has not committed any offence, this Court sees no reason to deny them protection”.
Kamini Devi v. State of U.P. & 4 Ors. (2020)
In this case, the petitioners, namely Kamini Devi, aged about 24 years, and the petitioner, two, aged about 28 years, filed a writ petition. Both the petitioners decided to live together without any compulsion or coercion. Family members were not happy with this. Petitioner 1 filed a complaint to the Superintendent of Police and requested him to provide the necessary protection to them. But no action was taken by authorities, and so the petitioner filed the writ petition before the Court to get issued the writ of mandamus so that they are not harassed by anyone and live their peaceful life.
The Court referred to the judgment of the case Lata Singh v. the State of U.P. (2006), where it was observed that a live-in relationship between two consenting heterosexual adults does not amount to any offence though it may be perceived as morally wrong. To protect the women and victims of such relationships for the first time in India, the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 protects the couple having a relationship in the nature of marriage.
The Court, after noting all the things are in the view, held that the petitioner is at liberty to live together freely and no person shall be permitted to interfere with their peaceful life. Article 21 of the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his right to life and personal liberty. The Court stated that if any type of disturbance is caused to them, they can approach the Superintendent of the Police. The Court ordered the police to provide protection to the petitioner.
Kajal and Anr. v. State of Haryana and Ors. (2021)
In this case, the petition was filed by the couple, a 16-year-old minor girl and a 25-year-old boy living together without getting married. The Court refused to grant protection to this couple who were living together. The Court observed that a minor girl residing with an adult in a live-in relationship is not morally and socially acceptable in society. The Court stated that there is no ground to issue any direction in the present case. However, the Court also stated that if petitioners have any apprehension of danger to their lives and liberty, they are free to approach the police authorities in this regard.
Smt. Geeta and Another v. State Of U.P. & 4 Ors. (2021)
In this particular case, a writ petition is filed by one petitioner who is a major and another petitioner, who is also a major. The Court, while deciding the case, noted that the woman is already married and is in a live-in relationship with another man. The Court stated that they failed to understand how such a petition be allowed to permit illegality in society. The Court refused to grant protection to the petitioner and dismissed the protection plea with a cost of Rs. 5,000.
Chitambresh & K.P. Jyothindranath (2018)
In this particular case, the writ petition was filed by the father of a 19-year old girl to prevent her from living with an 18-year old boy. The Court stated that partners in a live-in relationship could not be separated through the writ of habeas corpus. The Court observed that they could not ignore the fact that live-in relationships have become prevalent in the current time, and the writ of habeas corpus can not be issued to separate a couple living together. “Our constitutional Court is bound to respect the unfettered right of adults to have live-in relationships even though society does not accept such relationships.” The Court dismissed the writ petition and declared that the daughter is free to live.
Rashika Khandal v. State of Rajasthan (2021)
In this case, the Rajasthan High Court stated that a live-in relationship between married and unmarried couples is impermissible. The High Court observed that the Apex Court had already established the same in the case of D.Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal (2010), where the Court said that a couple must hold themselves out to society being akin to spouses and must be of legal age to marry. The bench dismissed the plea to give direction to the Superintendent of Police to grant protection to them.
S.P.S. Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan Andalli Padayachi & Ors. (1991)
In this case, the Supreme Court allowed the presumption of marriage Under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 for the live-in relationship. In this case, Muthu Reddiars was in a live-in relationship with Rengammal but died without getting married and having the child from that bond. After his death, Rengammanl claimed inheritance in the property. Earlier Rengammal had married Alagarasami (who was alive), but they didn’t live together because of an undissolved marriage between them. The trial Court did not accept her live-in relationship claim. Her first appeal was dismissed. But later, the Madras High Court held the judgment in favour of the live-in partner.
Rajeeve v. Sarasamma & Ors. (2021)
In this case, while deciding a matrimonial appeal, the Kerala High Court held that service benefits by a female partner in a live-in relationship could not have a better claim than a legally married wife. The Court stated that there is evidence of long cohabitation of men with two women together, one according to a ceremonial marriage and the other not so. The presumption of the law of valid marriage will lean in favour of a married one.
While deciding the matter, the Court observed that parties in a live-in relationship that have lived together for a very long period of time could be brought within the purview of laws pertaining to maintenance and domestic violence and can be considered husband and wife for a limited purpose. But such a relationship can not be elevated to marital status. A female partner in a live-in relationship can not have a better claim than a legally married wife.
In this case, an employee of South Western Railway passed away while in service. After his death, both the live-in relationship partner as well as his wife made a claim for his service benefits from the railways. Both of them claimed to be legally wedded wives of the late Raghunathan. Subsequently, the respondent filed a petition before the family Court to declare her as a wife of late Raghunathan and sought an injunction from the Court to restrain the authorities from disbursing the family pension. The family Court granted the relief through its judgment. The present appeal has been filed before the Court to challenge the said judgment. After analyzing the oral and documentary evidence adduced by the parties, the Court opined that there is concrete evidence to prove the validity of a marriage between the respondent. The Court said that the long cohabitation of a man and woman generally raises the presumption for a valid marriage unless proven otherwise. However, there is evidence available of a man cohabiting with two women in the present case and simultaneously begetting children from both relations, one from ceremonial marriage and the other one not from ceremonial marriage.
After examining all the things, the Court stated that parties who live together for a long period of time could be brought under the purview of laws relating to maintenance and domestic violence, but they can not be elevated to marital status. The findings of the family Court were set aside by the Court.
The legitimacy of the appellant’s children
The High Court stated that the finding of the family court that there is no evidence for the marriage between the appellant and late Raghunathan and the appellant’s child who can not claim any right over the property or any benefits was set aside. The Court reasoned that according to Section 7(1), explanation(e) of the Family Courts Act, 1984 implied that only a suit for a declaration ‘as to the legitimacy of any person was within the jurisdiction of the Court. This legitimacy has presupposed a valid marriage, but this can not be stretched to adjudicate the legitimacy of any child who is born from a live-in relationship. Hence, the appellant’s child is not entitled to the said benefit, including the service benefits, and the railway authorities were given the liberty to decide the same in accordance with the law.
Prohibitory injunction set aside
The Family Court declared a prohibitory injunction against these parties from disbursing service benefits to the respondent, but the High Court, after hearing the matter observed that this dispute was between the appellant and the respondent regarding the marital status. The presence of other parties was irrelevant to the substance of the matter. Railways authorities were given the liberty to decide on the entitlement of the service benefits of late Raghunathan. For that reason, the High Court found that relief of permanent injunction granted by the Family Court against a party outside matrimony is uncalled for.
Tulsa & Ors. v. Durghatiya & Ors. (2008)
The Supreme Court, in this case, stated that a child born out of a live-in relationship could not be considered illegitimate if their parents live together under one roof for a long time. It must not be a ‘walk-in’ and ‘walk-out relationship. Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Section 26 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 bestow the child’s legitimacy, who is born out of null and void marriage or where a decree of nullity is granted in respect of a voidable marriage. Under Section 25 of the Special Marriage Act, any child begotten or conceived before the decree is made who would have been the legitimate child of the parties to the marriage. There is a twist in Section 26 of the Special Marriage Act. Subsection (3) states that the right of inheritance of such children is limited to parents’ property only. If their parents are not legally wedded to each other, children do not have any coparcenary rights in the property of Hindu Undivided Families. Thus, this provision has been applied to provide the right of inheritance to a child born out of a live-in relationship in the self-acquired property of parents, but if their parents are not married to each other, then he can not claim the coparcenary right in the property of HUF of their father.
My preferred Transformation and Hospitality Private Limited v. The District Collector & Ors. (2021)
In this particular case, the High Court of Madras held that the occupation of the hotel room by an unmarried couple is not a criminal offence. Justice M. S. Ramesh said that there are no laws or regulations that forbid unmarried persons of the opposite sex to occupy hotel rooms as guests. He said that the live-in relationship of two adults is not deemed to be an offence. It’s going to be a very extreme step of sealing the premise on the ground that the unmarried couple was occupying the premise. In the absence of any particular law prohibiting the same, it would be totally illegal to do so.
In this case, a search was conducted by a team of officers from Peelamedu police station. During the course of the search, they found liquor bottles and in one room two adults, male and female, who were married to each other. The officer sealed the premises without any written order. The petitioner’s counsel alleged that there is no justification for the actions of the respondent sealing the premise without any order and not giving an opportunity in a violation of the principle of natural justice. Additional Public Prosecutor appearing for the respondent stated that the petitioner’s premise is permitting illegal activities by the guests without recording details of the guest in the booking register. Various reports from print and social media were produced before the Court by the respondent to indicate that the petitioner had permitted the unmarried couple to stay in the hotel room, which has been termed as immoral. On finding liquor bottles, the petitioner stated they do not serve or sell liquor on the premises, and such bottles were brought by the guest who was living in the room. While hearing the case, the Court noted that the Tamil Nadu Liquor (Possession for Personal Consumption) Rules, 1996, permits any individual person to possess 4.5 Litres of IMFS,7.8 Litres of Beer; 9 Litres of Wine at a given point in time. Hence, the Court stated that the consumption of liquor by the guests could not be termed illegal. The Court also stated that the entire episode of sealing a premise is in violation of the principle of natural justice.
United States of America
In the USA, the concept of ‘Cohabitation Agreements’ contains the explicit mention of rights and liabilities. It has the expression ‘palimony’, which means to grant maintenance to a woman.
In the case of Marvin v. Marvin (1976), a woman named Michele claimed palimony after living for several years without getting married to famous film actor Lee Marvin. The US Supreme Court has not given any decision on whether there is a legal right to claim palimony, but there are many decisions of the courts in various states in the USA. These states have taken divergent views, some granting palimony to claimants of live-in relationships while others denying it. Hence, in the USA, the law is still in the state of evolution on the right of palimony.
In the case of Taylor v. Field (1986), the plaintiff named Taylor was in a relationship with a married man named Leo. After Leo died, Taylor sued his widow, alleging the breach of implied agreement to take care of Taylor financially, and she also claimed the maintenance from the estate of Leo. The Court declared that Taylor’s relationship with Leo was nothing more than that of a legally married man and his mistress, albeit a long term one. The Court held that the alleged contract rested on meretricious consideration and hence was invalid and unenforceable. The Court found that there is no sign of stable and significant cohabitation between the two, and they only spend the weekend with each other.
In China, a couple signs a contract for a relationship, and if any child is born out of such a relationship, then that child enjoys the same succession and rights as the children born through marriage.
In France, two adults of the same or opposite sex can enter into an agreement to live together and organize their lives and thereby enjoy the right of a married couple and also work toward social welfare, these kinds of agreements can be revoked any time after giving three months prior notice to the other party. This type of agreement is known as ‘pacte civil de solidarite’ (civil solidarity pacts). This pact was passed by the French National Assembly in 1999 and allowed couples to enter into an agreement for a social union.
In the UK, live-in relationship couples do not enjoy the legal status as a married couple. Partners are not in any type of legal obligation to maintain each other. Partners can not claim the inheritance right over each other’s property unless they mention the name of the partner in their respective wills. A 2010 note from the Home Affairs Section to the House of Commons, stated that unmarried couples have no guaranteed rights to ownership of each other’s property on the breakdown of the relationship. However, the law protects the child born out of such a relationship. Both parents are under the obligation to bring up their children irrespective of the fact that whether they are married or cohabiting.
In the Philippines, live-in relationship couples’ rights are governed by the co-ownership rule. According to Article 147 of the Family Code, 1987 of the Philippines which provides that when a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife without any benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, then their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and property acquired by both of them through theirs work shall be governed by the co-ownership rules. Family code expressly governs the property of persons cohabiting without the benefits of marriage.
Though living together in Ireland is legally recognized, public opinion is still against the legislation that aims to facilitate the legal right for a separated couple to demand maintenance and share in the property with the financially dependent partners. The legislation applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, but the condition is that they have to be cohabiting for at least three years and if they have a child, then two years.
Australian Family Act, 1975 states that a de facto relationship can exist between two people of different or even the same sex and that person can be in a de facto relationship even if legally married to another person or in a de facto relationship with anyone else.
In Scotland, the Family Law Act, 2007 authoritatively recognized and authorized couples dwelling together in Scotland. When the law was passed, nearly 1,50,000 individuals were engaged in live-in relationships. In the event, if such a relationship breaks, a companion has the right to apply for monetary help.
Arguments put forth against the morality of live-in relationships
There are many arguments given by people when they assert that live-in relationships are wrong or bad. Some of them are given below:
- When such a couple lives together, there is no social responsibility. So there are chances that they can misuse this and change their partner sometimes.
- Some people will feel insecure after having such a relationship, especially girls as this type of relationship’s future is completely uncertain.
- A child who is born out of such a type of relationship faces social stigma in society.
- Most of the time, such a relationship goes against the permission of elders.
- If the couple breaks up after a long-term relationship, then recovering from the loss is very difficult and may lead to depression.
Our society is changing quickly, and courts also need to change their mindset with the changing times. Courts in India have recognized live-in relationships, but there is still a long way to go. A live-in relationship is not considered an offence, and there is no law to date that prohibits this kind of relationship. The Parliament needs to come up with a new law for dealing with the cases of live-in relationships because on the same issues different High Courts have put forth different views. Change is the need for society, and now people should not see live-in relationships as morally bad.
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