It is no more a taboo in India, although it's been very much less understood, misunderstood and controversial topic of our society. But in today's fast growing world it has become an integral part of our society.
I being a lawyer very commonly come across such cases and many questions related to live-in relationship in recent years.
Many bold and benchmark judgments passed by the Indian courts breaks the boundaries of definition of relationship in the eyes of law. The judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court passed in the year 2010 has been a benchmark to provide a guideline and the legitimacy of live-in relationship in India, by considering the couple in live-in relationship as husband and wife which ensures the women in such relationship gets the legal rights as a wife.
In the metropolitan cities of India, it has become a common concept for a man and women to live together without getting married and even sometimes resulting in getting children out of such relationship and disputes arising out of such relationship there is question arising before the Indian Judiciary system to fit this issues into the current legal provisions. Many of this relations are between a couple when both are bachelors (unmarried), few cases when either person is married and in few cases both the persons are married.
Generally, the people engaged in such relationship are of the view that the concept of marriage comes with an unwanted burden, lifetime bonding or responsibilities and they prefer the way of live-in relationship as a comfortable relationship and an option to the marriage. Some of them are willing to know the nature of the partner before marriage and to decide about the eligibility to get into the bonding of marriage or not. But every fruit comes with a cost. In many cases where such relationship fails to the point of getting departed with disappointment and sometimes the things go extremely bitter and the relationship turns into disaster. In such cases the common result that either partner gets into a relationship with some other person and the earlier partner feels cheated and sometimes goes into serious mental trauma. Sometimes the partner feeling cheated is willing to take any step to take revenge. Hence, filing a criminal complaint for cheating or breach of trust or even going to the extent of filing a case of rape has become very common. A very common allegation is that the other partner had promised to get married and now he or she (generally 'he') is denying to marry and avoiding her/ him just to get out of the relationship. It should be clearly understood that living in live-in relationship is not a promise to marry. In a live-in relationship, trust on each other and respect towards the relationship to avoid the complications and disputes arising out of the same. It can be a temporary solution to the changing nature of the society or may be a demand of modern era but every relationship should have certain parameters and one should take it as a responsibility rather than obligation.
There is no specific law governing the live-in relationship and it has become a need of today's world to get this concept regulated and codified and while making such law our culture, our social structure and the changing nature of our society has to be taken in to consideration. Such specific law should not be made on the basis of the laws governing in the foreign countries because the culture and social atmosphere of India is different than others. In few countries like China, a man and women can enter into a contract of live-in relationship and get the right to co-habit and the children born out of such relationship get social and legal status as children born through marriage. In few European countries the live-in relationship between two people of opposite sex or even of same sex is accepted both socially and legally. But in England and the law restricts the rights of a couple engaged in live-in relationship. In United States the laws related to live-in relationship are quite liberal. In Middle East it is still an unaccepted relationship and sometimes it is treated as a crime.
Our Indian law states that a relationship between an unmarried man and unmarried women living together under one roof for a reasonable period, without getting married, then it can be called as 'live-in relationship'. Some provisions of civil laws and the provisions of some specific laws are made applicable for the disputes arising out of such relationship. In recent past number of complaints have been filed by a female partner after breaking the live-in relationship, that the man had obtained the consent to have sex with her with a promise to get married with her and now he is denying to marry her, hence it is an offence of rape. The male partner in such case always thinks himself as a victim of false allegation. In a very important judgment given by the Delhi High Court, while deciding a PIL, clearly refused to keep live-in relationship outside the purview of rape, by stating that, while doing so would amount to granting such relationships the status of marriage. But on the contrary the Judgment of Supreme Court states that in today's modern world in metro cities the girls of major age and are educated, certainly have a knowledge of keeping such relationship and the consequences of the same. In a famous case the Allahabad High Court states that, live-in relationship is not illegal. It is further added that, such relationship may be immoral for certain part of society, but it is not illegal as both man and women staying together with their free will without getting married. Hence, it is still a topic of controversy about the legitimacy and the recognition of live-in relationship. An appeal filed by the South Indian actress Khushboo, seeking quashing of criminal proceedings filed against her for the comments made by her in an interview to a magazine, while deciding such issue the Supreme Court keeps its opinion that, a man and women living together without marriage cannot be construed as an offence.
In the eyes of law some rights have been given to the women engaged in live-in relationship such as, the women in live-in relationship can ask for relief under the provision of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which covers the act of domestic violence in live-in relationship is just as in marriage relationship. Sec.2(f) of domestic Violence Act, 2005 clearly states that 'domestic relationship' means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family. It is to be observed that spending the weekends together or one night stand shall not be a domestic relationship. Hence, in such cases, the provisions of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 does not apply.
The women aggrieved by live-in relationship has a right to ask for 'Monetary Relief' but for getting such relief certain parameters have to be fulfilled which are prescribed to get the benefit of such provision. There are many controversies about providing maintenance to the aggrieved women. The Supreme Court states that the Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act assigns a very broad and expansive definition to the term of 'Domestic Abuse' to include within its purview even the economic abuse which includes deprivation of financial and economic resources.
In the eyes of law if a man has a 'keep', to whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for his sexual desire or as a servant such relationship shall not be live-in relationship.
The child born out of live-in relationship has the same right of succession and inheritance just as a child born out of marriage relationship. But there is more of a controversy about the legitimacy and the rights of such child. While putting light on this issue a judgment of Supreme Court clearly states that a child born to man and women who are living under same roof and co-habiting for a number of years will not be an illegitimate child.
If a married man engages in a live-in relationship with an unmarried women in such case the wife of the man cannot book him under Bigamy, as it does not fit within the parameters of the provisions of bigamy as per the Indian Penal Code. But it can be strong ground for the wife to file a divorce petition and in some cases it can also be treated as mental harassment. If a man keeps a relationship with married women then the husband of the women can file criminal complaint against the man for adultery as per the provisions of section 497 of Indian Penal Code and with the help of sufficient evidence he can send him to jail.
Not a major part of our society has open heartedly accepted the concept live-in relationship but in today's rapidly changing nature of our society, especially in urban cities it has become a part of the society and frequency of such relationship is giving birth to many debates, disputes and controversies related to the concept of live-in relationship. In a social view, it is still hard to accept the live-in relationship i.e. living together as a couple without marriage. But even from a legal view, it is still complicated and unregulated. It is a need of time for the Indian Parliament to take steps, considering the changing nature of our society, to enact a specific law governing the live-in relationship rather than bringing such relationship within the ambit of the existing laws in India and to regulate the rights and obligations for the couples in a live-in relationship.
The author can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org