Current Legal Status of Live-in Relationships in India
The traditional Indian societies have always scowled upon the concept of live-in relationship because, unlike marriages, such cohabitation not only lacks legal sanctity but is also believed to disintegrate the fabrication of social order. However, on several occasions, the Courts in India have reiterated that the morals in social values do have their space to operate in society but nothing can be considered above the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the individual. The legislature has successfully not only recognized live-in relationships but also accorded requisite protection of women by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
If two adults, a man, and women who have attained the age of majority (18 years and above), want to live together, then in such cases nobody including their parents would have any authority to interfere with them living together. In circumstances wherein the parties are not competent enough to enter into wedlock, they have all rights to live together even outside the wedlock (S. Khusboo Vs. Kanniammal & Anr., JT 2010 (4) SC 478). The liberty to live peacefully is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution and no person can be deprived of the same. The Act has administered the status of matrimony to live-in relationships and has specifically declared that women who did not have a conventional marriage ceremony, nonetheless are cohabitating with a man in a relationship, that is of character and essence of a marriage, are as well parallel to the status of wife, however not alike to matrimonial wife. In either case, they are entitled to the obligations and benefits of the Act, 2005 (D. Veluswamy Vs. D PAtchiammal, Criminal Appeal No. 2028-2029 of 2010).
The issue of the legitimacy of a child born out of such relationships also directly deals with the protection of women. The precedents with regards to same have repetitively held that in such situations, where the biological mother and father have been cohabiting continuously for several years, the Courts shall presume in favour of marriage and against concubinage (Madan Mohan Singh Vs. Rajni Kant, Civil Appeal No. 6466 of 2004). The children born out of such relationships would no longer be considered illegitimate children before the eyes of the law and would possess the same maintenance and inheritance rights as that of a child born out of lawful wedlock. However, a crucial pre-condition has been raised by the court bearing in mind the Bonafede need for protection and legal abuse. The biological parents of such children born out of the lawful wedlock should have lived under the same roof and must have co-habited for several years for the society to recognize the same as husband and wife (Tulsa Vs. Durghatiya, Civil Appeal No. 648 of 2002).
Live-in relationships usually end after a significant longer period of time and can cause sequels to financial dependency and assailability. The increase of such relationships at an alarming rate cast a duty upon the legislature to provide adequate protection to the women and children emerging out of that cohabitation. The legislative objective of Section 125 of Cr.P.C. intended to accomplish a purpose in the society. The foremost aim was to render justice to the woman, infirm parents, and children geared towards preventing widespread destitution and homelessness. In the light of the aforesaid objective, the Supreme Court of India expanded the status and definition of the term wife to include women who have been cohabiting in live-in relationships and accordingly claim for maintenance. The loophole in the definition shall not compel vulnerable women who are incapable of taking care of themselves. But rather, provide a moral claim for support (Vimala Vs. Veeraswamy, 1991 SCR (1) 904, 1991 SCC (2) 375).
That being said, women can also claim protection and maintenance apart from the maintenance received under any other law by the virtue of Section 20(1)(d) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The aforesaid provision grants the right to alimony to the aggrieved partner in the live-in relationship. A man is not permitted to exploit the loopholes and take advantage of a de-facto marriage while escaping from responsibilities and obligations towards the same. On the other hand, simply living with each other only during weekends or a casual hook-up with someone would not constitute a “domestic relationship” under the DV Act, 2005 for the sake of maintenance (Abhijeet Bhikaseth Auti Vs. State of Maharashtra, 3 Cri. L.J. 889,892 (Bom.2009). Additionally, the court takes certain parameters such as duration of the relationship, shared household, domestic Arrangement pooling of resources, financial arrangement, sexual relationship, children born out of the relationship, public socialization, conduct, and intention of the parties into consideration to ascertain the ambit of the constitution of live-in relation. (Rajnesh Vs. Neha, Criminal Appeal No. 730 of 2020).
It is a sad plight that even though the legislature and various courts have adopted a positive and reformist approach towards the legal recognition of live-in relationships however these are often met with regressive and conflicting judgements which try to undo all positive efforts. Even though the courts have often reiterated their legal stance on the subject, very recently the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Ujjawal and Anr. Vs. State of Haryana, Criminal Writ Petition No. 4268 of 2021) refused to grant protection to a couple in a live-in relationship on the grounds that doing so would destroy the moral fabric of the society.
Thus, the laws and the dictums passed by the different Courts on live-in relationships lack clarity and there is lot more which is to be done in this area and achieved.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Lopamudra Mahapatra