This article was written by Kartik Aggarwal a student of Shri Ram College of Commerce.
Live-in or marriage like relationship(Cohabitation) is neither a crime nor a sin though socially unacceptable in this country. The decision to marry or not to marry or to have a heterosexual relationship is intensely personal.Prevalent mostly among the people living in metro cities in India, it has become a controversial issue and as such cases come to light, the law has to step in which has further given way to various court decisions and verdicts.
The Supreme Court has ruled that in case an unmarried couple live together as husband and wife, then they would be assumed to be legally married and the woman would be entitled to inherit the property after death of her partner.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 recognizes “relationship in the nature of marriage” and protects female partners from domestic violence. Such partners can claim monetary and other reliefs under the Act.
The Supreme Court in the case of D.Velusamy v D.Patchaiammal (21 October, 2010) held that, a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ under the 2005 Act must also fulfill the following criteria:
(a) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to marriage.
(b) They must be of legal age to marry.
(c) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried.
(d) They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time, and in addition the parties must have lived together in a ‘shared household’ as defined in Section 2(s) of the Act. Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a ‘domestic relationship’.
It also held that if a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’.
Since 2010, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of couples living together as husband and wife, giving the woman the right of a wife.
In S. Khushboo v Kanniammal & Anr (28 April, 2010)the Supreme Court of India, placed reliance upon its earlier judgment in Lata Singh Vs. State of U.P. wherein it was observed that a live in relationship between two consenting adults of heterosexual sex does not amount to any offence even though it may be perceived as immoral. However, in order to provide a remedy in Civil Law for protection of women, from being victims of such relationship, and to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence in the society, first time in India, the DV Act has been enacted to cover the couple having relationship in the nature of marriage, persons related by consanguinity, marriages etc. There are other legislation where reliefs have been provided to woman placed in certain vulnerable situations.
The Supreme Court, on 13 August 2010, in Madan Mohan Singh & Ors vs. Rajni Kant &Anr. has once again entered the debate on legality of the live-in relationship as well as legitimacy of child born out of such relationship. The Court while dismissing the appeal in the property dispute held that there is a presumption of marriage between those who are in live-in relationship for a long time and this cannot be termed as ‘walking-in and walking-out’ relationship.
In BharataMatha&Ors vs. R. VijayaRenganathan&Ors. , the Supreme Court held that child born out of a live-in relationship may be allowed to succeed inheritance in the property of the parents, if any, but doesn’t have any claim as against Hindu ancestral coparcenary property.
The Delhi High Court in its decision on 10 August 2010, in Alok Kumar vs. State &Anr while dealing with the validity of live in relationship held that “‘Live-in relationship’ is a walk-in and walk-out relationship. There are no strings attached to this relationship, neither this relationship creates any legal bond between the parties. It is a contract of living together which is renewed every day by the parties and can be terminated by either of the parties without consent of the other party and one party can walk out at will at any time.”
A two- judge bench of Justices MY Eqbal and Amitava Roy said that continuous cohabitation of couple would raise the presumption of valid marriage and they would not be considered legally married until proven otherwise.
The bench said, “It is well settled that the law presumes in favor of marriage and against concubine, when a man and woman have cohabited continuously for a long time. However, the presumption can be rebutted by leading unimpeachable evidence. A heavy burden lies on a party who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin.”