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Legal Rights in Live-in Relationships 

Published on 28 Mar 2018 by Tushar

Live-in relationships are still considered taboo in India, with the majority still believing that the only relationship between a man and woman is the sacred bond of marriage. In the past years, it has been seen that couples in Metropolitan cities are opting to live together without getting married, be it for avoiding the formalities involved in a marriage, for financial reasons, or simply just because they don't want to get tied down together. 

The courts in India have also recognised the legality of a live-in relationship and grants some necessary rights to the people living in such relationship and to the children born out of it. Some of these rights include:

Right to Maintenance of a Woman in Live-in Relationship

The Maharashtra Government in October 2008, approved a proposal suggesting a woman in a live-in relationship for a 'reasonable period' should get the status of a wife. The Malimath committee had also suggested that the word 'wife' under the Cr.P.C. be amended to include a 'woman living with the man like his wife' which means the woman would also be entitled to alimony.

In another case, the Supreme Court also observed that it is not necessary for a woman to strictly establish the marriage to claim maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC. A woman in a live-in relationship can also claim maintenance under this provision.

The Supreme Court, in another case, has held that a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 must also fulfil some basic criteria. 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 be a relationship in the nature of marriage’. A family lawyer in India can be consulted to get a clear picture of a woman's right in a live-in relationship.

The Apex Court in October 2010 came up with a remarkable turnaround judgment with respect to an attempt to put a certain definition to live-in relationships with respect to the right to obtain maintenance as would be provided for in a legally recognized marriage. The Order of the Supreme Court states that the relationships in the nature of Marriage and relationships which are Live-ins are both quite different from each other.

Four important grounds were laid out for a live-in relationship to be recognized as a relationship in the nature of Marriage. When a live-in partner satisfies these four conditions in addition to living together under one roof, only then a deserted woman can seek Maintenance. This judgement is drawn the Ruling of a California Court in the US which had ordered similar relief by invoking the doctrine of a “Palimony”. These 4 conditions are:

  1. A live-in couple must hold themselves out to Society as being akin to spouses.
  2. They must be of legal age to marry.
  3. They must be unmarried or be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage.
  4. They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to World as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.

It is further clarified that merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a live-in relationship. Similarly, if a man has a “keep” whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant, it would also not amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage. A woman can hire top family lawyers in India to file a maintenance petition even if she is in a live-in relationship, but qualifies as a 'wife' within the meaning of this provision.

The apex court said it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. The Parliament has used the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ and not ‘live-in relationship’.

Legitimacy of Children born out of Live-in Relationships

Section 16 of Hindu Mariage Act provides that- "Notwithstanding that a marriage is null and void under Section 11, any child of such marriage who would have been legitimate if the marriage had been valid, shall be legitimate, whether such a child is born before or after the commencement of the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Act, 1976, and whether or not a decree of nullity is granted in respect of the marriage under this Act and whether or not the marriage is held to be void otherwise than on a petition under this Act."

Therefore, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 grants the status of legitimacy to every child irrespective of his birth out of a void, voidable or a legal marriage. But there is no specific law that raises any presumption of legitimacy in favour of children of live-in partners.

In 2010, the Apex Court had in Madan Mohan Singh vs Rajni Kant stated that "The courts have consistently held that the law presumes in favour of marriage and against concubinage when a man and woman have cohabited continuously for a number of years. However, such presumption can be rebutted by leading unimpeachable evidence."

The same year, the Apex Court had in another judgment hinted at the legitimacy of children born out of such relations. "It is evident that Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act intends to bring about social reforms, conferment of social status of legitimacy on a group of children, otherwise treated as illegitimate, as its prime object."

Other Rights of a Woman in a Live-in Relationship

In June 2008, it was recommended by the National Commission for Women to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to include live-in female partners for the right of maintenance under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. 

The partner of a live-in relationship was first time accorded protection by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which considers females who are not formally married, but are living with a male person in a relationship, which is in the nature of marriage, also akin to wife, though not equivalent to wife. Section 2(f) of the Act defines domestic relationship which 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. Thus, the definition of the domestic relationship includes not only the relationship of marriage but also a relationship `in the nature of marriage’. 

In the case of Koppisetti Subbharao Subramaniam vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, the defendant used to harass his live-in partner for dowry. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the nomenclature ‘dowry’ does not have any magical charm written on it. It is just a label given to demand of money in relation to a marital relationship. The Court rejected the contention of the defendant that since he was not married to the complainant, Section 498A did not apply to him. Thus, the Supreme Court took one more step ahead and protected the woman in a live-in relationship from harassment for dowry.

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