Live in relation which can also be referred to as cohabitation, in essence, is an arrangement whereby two people agree to live together on a permanent or long term basis in a sexually and/or emotionally intimate relationship. However, that moniker is typically used to denote unmarried couples who live under the same roof.
Cohabitation or live in relationships have turned into a common pattern amongst people across the Western world. There are a multitude of reasons why a couple may want to live together. It may be because they want to evaluate their compatibility in a more practical way, or to establish financial security before officially tying the knot. Apart from that, it may be also due to legal constraints that would not allow them to marry – for example, if they belong to the same sex.
In India, live in relationships have been a taboo right since the British raj. However, this is no longer entirely true amongst young couples in big cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. However, one can not deny that maintaining such relationships in most of the country’s rural areas would be nothing but to invite loads of unwanted attention, or may be even trouble. The government, however, has been taking various measures for the past few years (especially after the intervention from the judiciary) to protect the interest of female live in partners. In one such move, the government had extended economic rights to women in live in relation under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. Similarly, the Maharashtra state government in 2008 granted a proposal suggesting a woman involved in cohabitation for a “reasonable period” should be given the status of a wife.
In the same year, the Ministry of Women and Child Development was urged by the National Commission of Woman to include female live in partners in the definition of wife as described in the Section 125 of Cr PC. The objective of this recommendations was to harmonize various other sections of law with the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Justice Malimath Committee of the Supreme Court recommended that this be turn into a law by all states. The committee had observed that “if man and woman are living together as husband and wife for a reasonable long period, the man shall be deemed to have married the woman.”
The Malimath Committee also recommended that the word ‘wife’ under Cr.P.C. be amended to include any “woman living with a man like his wife”. In the Payal Katara v. Superintendent Nari Niketan Kandri Vihar Agra and Others trial (2002), the Allahabad High Court ruled that “ a lady of about 21 years of age being a major, has right to go any where and that anyone-man and woman even without getting married can live together if they wish.”
The need to include live in female partners for the right of maintenance under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 wa supported by the judgment in Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State Of Maharashtra and Others. The Malimath Committee and the Law Commission of India also suggested that if a woman has been in a live-in relationship for considerably long time, she ought to enjoy the legal status as given to wife. However, recently it was observed that a divorced wife is treated as a wife in the context of Section 125 of CrPC but the live in partners cannot get divorced, and hence cannot claim maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 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 domestic relationship includes not only the relationship of marriage but also a relationship `in the nature of marriage.
Thus, the legal status of live-in relationships in India has been evolved and determined by the Supreme Court in its various judgments. However, there is no separate legislation which lays down the provisions of live in relationships and provides legality to this concept. Though the concept of live-in relationship is considered immoral by the society, but is definitely not illegal in the eyes of the law. The Supreme Court states that living together is a right to life and therefore it cannot be held illegal. The court has also tried to improve the conditions of the women and children borne out of live in relationships by defining their status under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 if the relationship is proved to be “relationship in the nature of marriage”.
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