- A live-in relationship is a relationship between unmarried couples who live together in a long-term arrangement that resemble a marriage.
- While this is an accepted norm in other countries, it is still a new phenomenon in India.
- There was no explicit law pertaining to live-in relationships until an acknowledgment was made by the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which gave rights and protections to those females who are not legally married.
- Sec. 2(f) of the aforementioned Act defines a domestic relationship as 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.
- Though there are no explicit provisions that define a live-in relationship, the courts take the help of the provisions of the Act to decide cases on the subject.
One of the reasons as to why couples today prefer live-in relationships before committing themselves to a marriage is to analyze and check if they are compatible with each other. They believe a live-in relationship helps in learning about themselves and each other.
However, in a society like ours, which considers marriage as a sacred institution, there has been fierce opposition to live-in relationships. Due to this, many new legal and social issues have arisen.
Justice A.K. Ganguly in the case of Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun ((2011) 2 UJ 1342), held that with changing social norms of legitimacy in every society, including ours, what was illegitimate in the past may be legitimate today.
Oftentimes, our judiciary has had to step up to cover the holes that the laws leave with regarding to live-in relationships. It is to be noted, however, that our judiciary has not taken a role of promotion of such relationships nor has it prohibited the same.
Therefore, it can be stated that our judiciary is still coming to terms with the concept of live-in relationships and how to safely navigate between societal outlook and cultural changes in modern times.
It can be categorically stated that neither our laws nor our judiciary have any idea or understanding of what live-in relationships are. But as has often been proved, law takes its own time to acclimatize to societal changes through amendments. There are several questions that the judiciary faces. Questions like:
- Whether the provisions of the marriage laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, the Muslim Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act are applicable to live-in relationships,
- Whether children born out of live-in relationships are considered to be illegitimate and
- Whether women in live-in relationships have a right to maintenance; are often faced by the judiciary.
To answer the first question, it can be categorically stated that the provisions of the marriage laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, the Muslim Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act are not applicable to live-in relationships. Unlike marriages, live-in relationships couples live together under the same roof but are not married to each other. Live-in relationship couples are not required to go through the procedures that married couples have to go through as per the provisions of the aforementioned marriage laws. Live-in relationship couples do not have to go through the process of registration, but married couples have to go through it. However, the provisions of Sec. 114 of the Indian Evidence Act seek to bridge the gap between live-in relationships and marriage. The provisions of the section allow the court to presume certain facts. Sec. 114(a) (i) of the Evidence Act state that there would be presumption in favour of wedlock if the partners lived together for long spell as husband and wife; but it would be rebuttable and heavy burden lies on the person who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin to prove that no marriage took place. The Supreme Court in the case of S.P.S. Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan Andallai Padayachi & Ors., (AIR 1992 SC 756), allowed for presumption of marriage out of live-in relationships under the provisions of Sec. 114 of the Evidence Act.
With regards to the second question, the Supreme Court in the case of Tulsa v. Durghatiya, (AIR 2008 SC 1193), awarded legal status to the children born from a live-in relationship. Having said that the court also mentioned that the couple should have lived under a roof for a reasonable amount of time. The court held that a child born out of cohabitation was not to be treated as illegitimate but there were certain pre-conditions which include provisions like the parents must have cohabited for a considerable amount of time under one roof so that the society recognizes them as husband and wife had to be fulfilled. In the case of Dimple Gupta v. Rajiv Gupta (AIR 2008 SC 239), the Supreme Court held that children born out of live-in relationships were eligible for maintenance from the biological father. Therefore, it can be inferred here that the court sought to give children born out of live-in relationships the same rights that children born out of marriage enjoy.
To answer the third question, the judiciary had given out several judgments in favor of maintenance for women in live-in relationships. A bench of Justices Vikramajit Sen and A M Sapre in a recent case held that cohabitation of a couple would give rise to the presumption of a valid marriage and if a live in relationship breaks down, the man is bound to pay maintenance to the women. As mentioned before, children born out of live-in relationships are also eligible for maintenance from the biological father. The provisions of Sec. 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provide for maintenance for women in case she is unable to maintain herself. The aforementioned section was later extended to women in live-in relationships as the section gave birth to a presumption that if a woman had been in a live-in relationship for a considerable period of time, she is eligible for privileges as that of a spouse and can claim maintenance under the provisions of Sec. 125 of Criminal Procedure Code. In the case of Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha ((2011) 1 SCC 141), the Supreme Court held that where partners live together as husband and wife, a presumption would arise in favor of wedlock. Therefore, it can be presumed that women in live-in relationships are eligible for maintenance as that of women in marriages.
POSITION IN OTHER COUNTRIES
In Canada, the case of Pettkus v. Becker ((1980) 2 S.C.R. 834) is deemed to be a landmark judgment with regards to live-in relationships. The court held that where one person in a relationship tantamount to spousal prejudices herself in the reasonable expectation of receiving an interest in property and the other person in the relationship freely accepts benefits conferred by the first person in circumstances where he knows or ought to have known of that reasonable expectation, it would be unjust to allow the recipient of the benefit to retain it. This interpretation was later used in Australia in the case of Muschinski v. Dodds ((1985) 160 CLR 583), which held that the parties in a live-in relationship can hold on to a property in an equal share.
The French Parliament, in 1999, passed a new law giving legal status to unmarried couples, including homosexual couples. The law allows for unmarried couples, regardless of their sexuality, to be entitled to the same rights that married couples enjoy, including inheritance, housing and social welfare.
In the United States, the California Supreme Court in the case of Marvin v. Marvin (L.A. No. 30520. Supreme Court of California. December 27, 1976) held that the provisions of the Family Law Act do not govern the distribution of property acquired during a non-marital relationship; such a relationship remains subject solely to judicial decision.
The Indian society is known for its fierce conservatism. Ours is a society which considers marriage as a sacred institution and detests the idea of live-in relationships, which is increasing in its prevalence. Our judiciary and our legal system are not equipped to deal with such matters. However, judgments in various cases have sought to address the complicated issues that arise out of live-in relationships, such as eligibility of women in live-in relationships for maintenance, status of children born out of live-in relationships, etc. There have been several arguments made for and against live-in relationships. It will take time for both the society and the legislature to accept the idea of live-in relationships.
DO YOU SUPPORT LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS BEFORE MARRIAGE? DO THEY HELP TWO PEOPLE UNDERSTAND EACH ITHER BETTER? DOES IT OFFER LONGEVITY OF THE MARRIAGE?