Legal Aspects of Live-In-Relationships in India

Introduction

Since modernization and westernization are making their way into Indian Society, the concept of a Live-in Relationship has become quite popular among the youths, on the other hand, this concept is being criticized and targeted as its cohabitation of two people under one roof without the marriage. Marriage is an essential part of Indian Society as it lays the foundation of the social institution. This blog highlights the various legal aspects of Live-in Relationships in India. 

Rise of Live-In Relationships in India

Live-In Relationship is a relationship in which neither of the partners is under obligation as they would’ve been if they were married. It is looked at as an alternative to the marriage system, based on mutual understanding. In the last few decades, globalization has accelerated transformation that impacts practically every element of our social life, including family structure, marriage, romantic relationships, and more. The socially and legally recognized form of a couple’s connection is marriage. There are many reasons why these kinds of relationships are becoming more and more prevalent. In the lack of any explicit laws, regulations, or traditions on the matter, the Supreme Court has established some criteria in its ruling to govern such relationships. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2005 considers live-in relationships between two consenting adults to be “like marriage” if the couple presents themselves to society as husband and wife and live together for an extended period. Live-in relationships between two consenting adults are not regarded as illegal. 

Morality vs Law

It was deemed improper for men and women to cohabitate under the same roof without becoming legally wed in the framework of our sociocultural ideals. Similarly, premarital sex was regarded as being extremely immoral. However, these ideas and taboos are rapidly vanishing as society becomes more accepting of live-in relationships and premarital sex.  In the case of, S. Khushboo vs. Kanniamal & others the Supreme Court determined that although live-in relationships may be considered immoral in society due to religious and environmental concerns, it is not criminal in the eyes of the law. The idea of a live-in relationship is not new in India; it is referred to as a “friendship agreement” (Maitri-Karar) and involves two people who agree in writing to live together as friends and prepare for a Gandharva marriage. 

The legal basis for live-in Live-in relationships is established under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The right and freedom of choice to choose to marry or live with someone of one’s own free will flow from this unalienable fundamental right. The Supreme Court ruled in Payal Sharma v. Nari Niketan that a man and woman could live together voluntarily even without getting married. The Court defined the line between law and morality, stating that although live-in relationships are viewed as immoral by society, they are neither illegal nor crimes. Cohabitation and maintaining a live-in relationship between two people are not crimes. It was made clear that although they are socially taboo in some regions of India, living together is neither wrong nor sinful.

In Tulsa & Ors v. Durghatiya & Ors, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of a couple’s 50-year marriage. The court was instructed that it could assume the presence of any fact that it believed to have happened. The act of marriage can be supposed from the common course of natural events and the conduct of parties as they are supported by the facts of a particular case, it is obvious when reading Sections 50 and 114 of the Evidence Act combined.

 Forms of Live-In Relationships in India

The Honourable Supreme Court stated in the case Indra Sarma vs VKV Sama that live-in relationships can be classified into five types:

  1. A domestic cohabitation between a significant unmarried female and a significant unmarried male. It is regarded as the most basic type of relationship.
  2. A major unmarried woman and a married man entered into mutual domestic cohabitation. A major unmarried man and a married woman entered into mutual domestic cohabitation.
  1. In India, these are the most common types of live-in relationships. Furthermore, adultery is a relationship that is punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  1. Domestic cohabitation between a major unmarried woman and a married man is also punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  2. Domestic cohabitation between homosexual partners cannot lead to a marital relationship. As in India, no matrimonial law for homosexuality has yet been defined.

Applicability of various laws in Live-In Relationship

Domestic Violence Act: The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was enacted to protect women from abusive partners and family members. According to Section 2 (1), the Act applies not only to a married couple, but also to a “relationship in the nature of marriage.” A woman has the right to seek redress under the DV Act if she is subjected to physical, mental, verbal, or economic abuse. Furthermore, remedies are provided for the alienation of a woman’s property and the restriction of access to facilities to which the abused is entitled. This legislation provides several rights and protections to the abused. As a result, where it is established that a marriage-like relationship exists, the woman in a live-in relationship is entitled to all available remedies. Velusamy vs. D. Patchaiammal 2010 (10) SCC 469 established certain prerequisites for a good live-in relationship. It states that the couple must present themselves to society as spouses and must be of legal marriageable age or qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried. It was stated that the couple must have voluntarily cohabited and presented themselves to the world as spouses for an extended period of time. The court ruled that not all relationships qualify as marriage-like and thus qualify for the Act’s protection. It went on to say that if a man keeps a woman as a servant, financially supports her, and primarily uses her for sexual purposes, such a relationship in a court of law, marriage would not be considered. To obtain such a benefit, the Court’s conditions must be met, and this must be proven through evidence.

Maintenance claim by wife:  The court ruled in Dwarika Prasad Satpathy v. Bidyut Prava Dixit and Others that when there is proof that the parties cohabitated, maintenance cannot be withheld. The Supreme Court clarified the issue of live-in partnerships by stating that the judiciary would assume that two people were married if they had “lived as husband and wife” for a sizable period of time and had children.

The former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, together with Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph, concluded in a 2018 judgment that a partner in a live-in relationship can seek maintenance under the terms of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

The Supreme Court ruled in the famous case of Indra Sarma vs. V.K.V. Sarma that a woman who is living with a man who is already married to another person will still be regarded as being in a “domestic relationship” under the Domestic Violence Act. Because of this, the man’s neglect of her will qualify as “domestic abuse” under the Act, making her able to apply for relief like maintenance and compensation.

Rights of child Born out of Live-In Relationship:  The children born in this type of relationship are recognized as legitimate by the courts and are entitled to both inherited and privately acquired property. Children born out of such relationships are not provided for in our country’s personal laws, and as a result, these children cannot seek redress under the personal laws that apply to them. According to the Hindu Marriage Act, children born through a live-in relationship are entitled to the same succession and inheritance rights as children born to a married couple.

  • Legitimacy: Although there is no special law to govern the relationship between a live-in couple and the children they have together, the judiciary has connected live-in relationships and the children they have together to numerous already existent acts, thus bringing them under the purview of the law. The rights and obligations of children born outside of marriage are covered in the Hindu Marriage Act. Contrary to other religions, the Hindu Marriage Act recognizes the illegitimate, legitimate in law principle, making any kid born of an invalid marriage a lawful child. This amendment was created to change social reform and society’s thinking such that children’s rights, regardless of their legal status, must be upheld.
  • Maintenance: The penal code’s Section 125 also stipulates that a person may be held liable to support the wife, children (legitimate and illegitimate), and parents by an appropriate judge’s order.
  • Property: When it comes to the position of illegitimate offspring or children born out of wedlock, Hindu marriage laws deal with the subject of property or inheritance rights in a highly ambiguous manner. As a result, there have been several conflicting rulings and legal complexities. It is debatable how children born in a live-in relationship can be granted the position of legal heirs and therefore, these children must not be given any inheritance rights. If the objective was to never marry, then how can these children be given the status of legal heirs. However, the courts have to consider the welfare of society as a whole, rather than just that of a specific person or family. As a result, to protect vulnerable children from being punished for their parents’ misdeeds, the courts have used their vested jurisdiction to broaden the scope of these laws. 

Right to visa extension akin to married couples: The Court addressed the issue of extending a visa for a lady from Uzbekistan who had been living with an Indian man in the case of Svetlana Kazankina v. Union Of India The Respondents stated that the pertinent Rules only allowed such extensions upon proof of marriage and do not apply to live-in relationships as the reason for the refusal of visa extensions. The Court emphasized how these couples could benefit from companionship, love, and affection thanks to the provisions for visa extensions for foreigners married to Indian citizens. The Court stated that to grant a visa extension, marriage, and live-in relationships should not be considered differently because they are now a common occurrence.

Child Adoption rights of Live-In Couples:   According to the guidelines established by the Central Adoption Resource Authority, living spouses are not permitted by law to adopt a child. 

Bigamy v/s Live-In Relationship: The Court ruled that a live-in relationship is covered by the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court also ruled that live-in relationships are permitted and that it is not always illegal or unlawful for two adults to live together. A domestic relationship is one between two people/adults living together in a shared home that has the “nature of marriage,” according to Section 2(f) of the DV Act. Recognizing relationships in the aforementioned “later” group is important for two reasons. First off, according to our assessment, live-in relationships involving a married individual fall under the purview of “domestic relationships” as defined by the DV Act. In the case, of Malarkodi @ Malar v. The Cheif Internal Audit Officer Madras High Court supported this viewpoint and stated that Section 2(f) was broad enough in its application to cover partnerships falling within the previously indicated latter group. There is a compelling argument that a live-in relationship between a married person and an unmarried person is not bigamy and is not punishable by law (Section 494 Indian Penal Code). The clause makes it very clear that only a second “marriage” within the husband or wife’s lifetime is subject to criminal prosecution. The clause makes no mention of whether a live-in relationship that has the “nature of marriage” will be regarded as an implicit marriage for purposes of personal law. The primary goal of the Domestic Violence Act (DV Act) was to protect the wife or female live-in partner from abuse by the husband or male live-in spouse. The focus of the DV Act violation investigation whether a woman, married or not, is involved in a domestic relationship with a male is on the actual harm caused to the woman and the protection provided as a result. Any denial of protection would be serious wrongdoing to the suffering ladies. On the moral grounds that such partnerships violate the integrity of marriage and encourage bigamy, the Bombay, Allahabad, Rajasthan, and Punjab High Courts regrettably refused such victims protection. We respectfully disagree, though, as we believe that the courts are wholly in error. It is not automatically a promotion of bigamy or a criticism of the institution of marriage to accept the aforementioned categories of live-in relationships as being comparable to a domestic relationship for the purposes of Section 2(f) of the DV Act. The married woman/wife is not being deprived of her matrimonial rights of maintenance, legitimacy, and custody of children, etc. by simply deeming the live-in couple to be in a domestic relationship. It merely acknowledges the true reality of our society as it is and cleverly advances the key objectives of the DV Act’s protection of women.

Conflicting Views of Courts: Insisting that a live-in relationship between a married and an unmarried individual is illegal, the High Courts of Bombay, Allahabad, and Rajasthan have regularly declined to extend protection to such live-in couples. Insisting that they harm the nation’s “social fabric,” the Punjab and Haryana High Court went a step further and labeled these partnerships as undesirable. The Delhi High Court, on the other hand, disagreed and took a broader stance, affirming a female live-in partner’s rights regardless of the marital status of both parties. The Delhi High Court noted that a live-in relationship is a walk-in and walk-out relationship in the case of  Alok Kumar v. The State Living together does not impose any legal responsibilities on the partners, and they are not permitted to go to court to accuse the other partner of any type of adultery. According to certain conservatives, being in a relationship is a crime, and those who do so should be punished. In the well-known case of Payal Sharma v. Superintendent Nari Niketan the Supreme Court ruled that there is no law that forbids living together as a couple without getting married, hence doing so cannot be interpreted as illegal and is not a crime.

Laws in Other Countries:  

Canada

Live-in relationships are recognized as Common-Law relationships in Canada. In plain English, a common-law partnership is a union between two people who have been living together for a period of time that is legally required for a marriage. Either straight people or persons in same-sex relationships can engage in this. A live-in couple has the legal right to end their union at any time during the allotted time period.

France

The French legal system makes a distinction between partners who have cohabited formally and informally. Couples who are living together legally will enjoy the same legal rights as married couples, including social security. The French inheritance rules do not recognize live-in couples, therefore when their partner passes away, they are not eligible for any state benefits.

The United Kingdom

In the UK, live-in relationships are permitted.A woman and a man who cohabitate in a committed sexual relationship are regarded as Common Law Spouses, and their union is governed by a different Act. The statute only applies to individuals of the same sex up to 2019, but with a 2019 amendment, all couples, regardless of sex, are able to register their intention to live together and create a civil partnership.

United States

Cohabiting couples are recognized as domestic partners under California law. A live-in pair now has some of the same legal rights as married partners thanks to this recognition, which gave rise to the Domestic Partners Registry.

Conclusion:

Individuals in live-in relationships are not protected by a system of laws or standards because of legislative ignorance. The existing live-in relationship legal structure in India is largely a product of a number of rather progressive judicial judgments. In order to reinforce and ensure the protection of rights and obligations, live-in relationships require legal recognition to specify roles and responsibilities. The current matrimonial law system does not recognize cohabitation as a separate social institution from marriage. For the legislative laws controlling these institutions to be updated, the legislators must take into account the dynamics of societal change.

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