- A live-in relationship is a domestic cohabitation between a man and a woman, or, in some situations, two people of the same sex, and have no legal obligations or responsibilities to one another.
- There is no law binding the couples in a live-in relationship and each of them can walk out of the relationship whenever they wish.
A live-in relationship is an arrangement between two individuals to live together for a long period of time without officially marrying. This kind of relationship is usually entered into with the consent of both parties, either to test their compatibility before marriage or to avoid the difficulties that arise out of a legal marriage. Speaking in a culture like India, where the common belief is that marriage is a sacred institution that has existed since time immemorial this kind of a relationship was not accepted initially. But, as the world is changing, so is the way people think have too, and as a result, people these days are looking for alternatives to marriage. Therefore, a lot of couples prefer to get into live-in relationships, which literally speaking is a walk-in walk-out kind because there is no legislation governing them and that leads to the fact that they have no responsibilities or commitments to one another as well.
Furthermore, in India living together as a couple without being married to each other was considered as taboo which still is the thought amongst many yet, such relationships are more in the recent years for a several reason. And, the point to understand here is that, whatever be the reason, in a traditional society like ours, where the institution of marriage is considered "sacred," but with an increasing number of couples opting for a live-in relationship over marriage, could at times lead to legal and social issues that are difficult to resolve because this is kept outside the realm of law. Thus, by referring to various case laws, this article aims to analyze the legal position of the concept of live-in relationships thus far.
LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIP AND LAW
The concept of live-in relationship was quite uncertain because there was no legal definition on what constitutes a live-in relationship and as stated, there was no specific law or legislation that governs or explains the rights and obligations of parties in a live-in relationship. Hence, the parties in a live-in relationship in India like said have no rights or obligations under Indian law. But there have been various cases where the courts have defined the concept of a live-in relationship along with certain guidelines which would be discussed subsequently in a detailed manner. Before referring to court decisions, it is important to note that, while the law is uncertain concerning the status of live-in relationships, a few rights have been provided by interpreting and altering the existing legislations itself in order to prevent the parties from misuse.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 is one of the most important acts in this context because for the first time throughthis act, it has recognized live-in relationships by providing rights and protection to females who are not legally married but are living with a male individual in a relationship that is in the spirit of marriage, but is not identical to a marriage.
Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 defines Domestic relationship as, a relationship between two persons who live or have lived together in a shared household at any point of time, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption, or are family members living together as a joint family. The courts have interpreted this particular definition to include live-in relationships. It was observed that although the act does not categorically define a live-in relationship, the word relationship in the definition includes the character of marriage. Further, it was also observed that the phrases nature of marriage and live-in relationship are on the same line, and that being the case the courts assumed that live-in relationships are within the scope of this definition and gives some protection to the couple from abuse.
To understand how the live-in relationship has evolved over time in India, we must look at case laws and how the courts have interpreted such a concept. As previously stated, this was once considered taboo in India, but as time has passed, the courts have addressed it, and there are still differences of opinion on the subject, which would be discussed below.
The Privy Council back in 1920s established the general principle "Where a man and woman are proved to have lived together as a man and wife, the law will presume, unless the contrary be clearly proved, that they were living together in consequence of a valid marriage and not in a state of concubinage" in the case of A.Dinohamy vs. WL Blahemy (1927). Two years later, in the case of Mohabhat Ali vs. Md.Ibrahim Khan(1929), the Privy Council took the same stance, stating that when a man and woman cohabitate for a number of years, the law presumes that they are married and not in a state of concubinage. The point to note here is that, in both the decisions the court has not specified the number of years a couple must live together as husband and wife in order to enjoy the benefit.
Further, the Apex Court reiterated the same ruling in the case of Gokul Chand vs. Parvin Kumari (1952),by adding a proviso which stated that while the presumptions of a legitimate marriage between live-in couples may be taken from their extended cohabitation, this does not guarantee their legitimacy if the proof of living together could itself be disproved. Another case to refer from the 90s is the case of Krishnaiyer V Badri Prasad vs Director of Consolidation(1978), the Apex Court assumed that a man and woman who had lived together for nearly 50 years were married.
Fast forward to 2010, the Supreme Court and the High Court addressed and clarified the difficulties by issuing various guidelines in multiple judgments on the legality of live-in relationships.The Supreme Court of India declared in the landmark case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal (2010)that a living relationship is covered under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and went on to say that live-in relationships are legal and that the act of two adults living together cannot be termed illegal or unlawful.Further, in the same year another famous case was Alok Kumar vs State, where, the Delhi High Court defined a live-in relationship as a contract of living together that is renewed every day by the parties and can be ended by one party without the consent of the other. Couples who choose to live together cannot afterwards blame each other of infidelity or immorality.
After a point, the question of whether there are any laws addressing the legal status of children born to such couples also arose and in the case ofRevanasiddappa & Anr vs. Mallikarjun & Ors (2011),the court stated that regardless of the parents' relationship, the birth of a child from such a relationship must be evaluated independently of the parents' relationship. The court further said that a child born out of such a relationship is as innocent as a child born out of a lawful marriage and is entitled to all of the rights and privileges that children born out of a valid marriage have.
Moving on, in the case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma(2013)is noteworthy because the Supreme Court here spent a significant amount of time debating the issue of live-in relationships and provided a basic framework or rulebook for live-in relationships. However, the issue as seen in previous cases, on the duration of the relationship was said to be a suitable period of time to maintain and continue a relationship that varies on each case which brings us to an understanding that, it is still not been addressed.
Several cases have been filed throughout the years that have looked into the concept of live-in relationships and the challenges that come from them, and courts have expressed varying opinions on the subject. This is mostly due to a lack of appropriate laws to refer to, besides the Domestic Act of 2005, which has been noted to include the aspect of a live-in relationship as well. Otherwise, unlike other nations, India lacks an appropriate legal framework, which leads to people misusing such relationships and claiming they have no duties or restrictions therefore may do whatever they want.
There are a few other important cases to cite here from the recent times to understand how there exists difference of opinion. To begin with in the case of,Reshma Begum vs. the State of Maharashtra (2018),the Bombay High Court held that the prospect of a formal marriage is a sine qua non for establishing a 'domestic relationship' under Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act 2005. The Court held in this particular case that the provision could not be read too broadly to encourage adulterous relationships. Hence, in the given case the parties' relationship was not "in the nature of marriage" and therefore could not provide any relief to the applicant. Further, there have been several cases on protection to couples in live-in relationship in the recent times and the courts have interpreted this differently in a few instances.
In the case ofSanjay and Anr. v. State of Haryana & Ors. (2021),the Punjab and Haryana High Court noted in providing protection to a couple that while live-in relationships are not new, and today's society has not yet evolved to the point of accepting the concept of such a relationship. The Court citing the case of Nandakumar v. State of Kerala (2018) stated that the legislature recognizes a live-in relationship under the terms of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Hence, in this case, the Court had ordered the police to protect the couple if they were in danger.
Similarly, even in the case of Soniya and Anr. vs. State of Haryana and Ors. (2018), the court looked into the aspect of Honor killings and observed that it generally takes place when people marry without the consent of their parents or outside their castes. Therefore, considering the danger that could arise, the court held that ifthe petitioner has not committed any crime, it sees no reason to deny protection to the couple. But a different view was taken in the case of Kajal and Anr. vs. State of Haryana and Ors. (2021) as thecouple, who were living together, were denied protection because the court stated that a minor girl living with an adult in a live-in relationship is not morally or socially acceptable. However, in this particular case, the Court further stated that there is no reason to issue any direction and if petitioners believe they are in risk of losing their life or liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution, they are free to reach out to the police officers for protection.
As a matter of fact, India is a developing country and we know that with time things have changed drastically and if the laws are not in place to the changes, it would result in serious harm to the society. Specifically seeing the change that has come across in Indian on the notion of marriages and live- in relationship we need to understand that India has not completely accepted this kind of a relationship because even till date there have cases where the couples seek for protection from the society under Article 21 of the constitution which brings us to a conclusion that, there are still people who remain averse to the idea of a live-in relationship, despite the fact that it appears to be very common.
Although Indian courts have acknowledged live-in relationships and have considered numerous aspects related to live-in relationships and have attempted to understand and address issues, there is still no law that is effective asjust by stating that the live-in relationship is protected under Section 2(f) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 isn’t sufficient. Hencein my opinion the legal system lacks explicit legislation on the subject as different High Courts have taken different positions on the same issues and which shows that there are no proper guidelines in place.