Live-in relationships in India

Live-in relationships in India

A live-in relationship also called cohabitation in some countries is an arrangement when two people involved in a romantic and sexual relationship as partners for a long term or permanently, decide to live together without marriage. Ever since the live-in relationship in India has been legalised, it is essential to know the obligations and responsibilities that come along with it.

Indeed India has witnessed a drastic change in the way the present generation discern their relationships. With the society gradually accepting live-in relationships, the taboo that used to haunt people before moving into on has started fading away. This has happened over the years with a right to freedom, privacy, professionalism, globalisation and education. Furthermore, it is not an escape from the responsibilities; in fact, it is an attempt to know your partner better and to see the compatibility, so that divorce can be prevented.

Live-in relationship under Indian law

In the case Indra Sarma vs VKV Sarma, 2013, Honourable Supreme Court stated that live-in relationships have five distinct ways:

  • A domestic cohabitation between a major unmarried female and a major unmarried male. It is considered as the simplest kind of relationship between all.
  • A domestic cohabitation between that was entered mutually by a major unmarried woman and a married man. A domestic cohabitation between that was entered mutually by a major unmarried man and a married woman.
  • These two are the most acknowledged type of live-in relationship in India. Moreover, adultery is a type of relationship, and it is punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • A domestic cohabitation between that was entered unknowingly by a major unmarried woman, and a married man is also punishable under Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • A domestic cohabitation between partners who are homosexual, cannot lead to a marital relationship. As in India, any matrimonial law for homosexuality is not defined yet.

The legal status of live-in relationship in India

In western countries, there is a broader acceptance of a couple in a relationship. This can be understood by their civil and union agreements, legal recognition, prenuptial between couples. However, it is not similar in India. In most of the western Apex Courts, it was ruled that if a man and a woman has lived in a live-in relationship for a long term and even has children, same marital laws as a husband and a wife will be applicable on them.

In India, the Apex Court even stated that a woman and a man living together is a choice and lies under the right to life. Hence, it is not a criminal offence. So, live-in relationships in India are legal.

Marriage and live-in relationship

Marriage

Marriage in India is an institution that is ritually and socially accepted. Basically, it is a contract between the partners that imposes rights, duties and legal obligation towards each other. Because of the diverse culture in India, different laws have been formulated, that lays down the guideline and the procedure to execute marriages in different religions. Not every marriage is bliss. In order to deal with the disputes arises in marriages between the partners, marriage laws has been created in different religions.

Along with the laws related to maintenance under personal laws, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, section 125, also shields the wife with maintenance if she cannot maintain herself.

Also, there are provisions for women seeking extra maintenance other than maintenance received under other laws, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence act, 2005, section 20(1) (d).

Live-in relationship in India

Live-in relationship in India has been in talks since years, but there is no law that binds the partners with each other if any of the partners wants to walk out of a relationship.

The legal definition of a live-in relationship is still unconfirmed, as there is no legal definition of the same. As mentioned, the right of a wife to get maintenance is decided by the court under the Protection of Women under Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the individual facts.

Though the concept of live-in relationship is still a taboo in India, and not openly accepted by the society, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 offers maintenance and protection by providing alimony for an aggrieved live-in partner.

Protection of children and women of a live-in relationship from exploitation  

Maintenance of the female partner

All the personal laws in India protect their women by offering the right to maintenance to them. But, unfortunately, none of the religions accepts and recognises a live-in relationship. Hence it is the Indian courts that worked on a remedy to this problem by widening up the scope of maintenance under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Section 125 of the act offers a legal right to maintenance to the female partner both in and out of marriage.

Domestic violence with the female partner or children born out of a live-in relationship

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enforced to protect the women in India from abusive (mental, verbal, economic and physical) marital relationships. Shielding the female partner in a live-in relationship, section 2(f) of the act is applicable for protection to not only married women but women living in a ‘relationship in nature of marriage.’

Considering all these factors, the Honourable Supreme Court of India has allowed live-in relationships, covered within the ambit of law specified, in a couple of cases.

Children born out of marriages 

In a live-in relationship, child/children can be born if it sustains for a long time. It is noteworthy that as per the Guidelines Governing the Adoption of Children as notified by the Central Adoption Resource Authority, live-in couples cannot adopt a child in India. But in case any dispute arises regarding custody of a child, the partners can consult a child custody lawyer.

Legitimacy and inheritance rights of children born out of a live-in relationship

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, section 16 talks about inheritance rights of children and provides the legal status of legitimacy to an illegitimate child (born out of marriage or live in) for the sole purpose of inheritance. Hence, the children born out of a live-in relationship are also granted inheritance rights. These rights are applicable to both ancestral and self-bought properties.

Custody and maintenance rights of children born out of a live-in relationship

It is the personal marriage laws that deal with the maintenance rights of children born out of regular marriages, which is applicable to children born out of a live-in relationship as well. It varies from one personal law to another. Like, under Muslim rule, a father is not liable for maintenance for a child born out of marriage, whereas in the Hindu law, the father has to maintain such child.

Furthermore, section 125, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is there for children who cannot claim maintenance under personal laws, as it offers a legal right of maintenance to both the wife, female partner and children.

Conclusion

By all means, we can conclude that the concept and legal status of a live-in relationship in India have only evolved with time, and various judgements by Honourable Supreme Court and the Apex courts play the most crucial part in it.

However, there is no legality to the subject, as there is no separate legislation for the provisions of a live-in in India. Although the concept of a live-in relationship is a subject of morality in India, it’s not illegal according to the laws. Honourable Supreme court held that two major people living together is their right to life, and hence, it cannot be considered illegal. In order to protect women in live-in and children born out of a live-in relationship, the court has defined them as ‘relationship in the nature of marriage,’ under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

In a landmark case, Indra Sharma vs KVK Sharma, 2013, Honourable Supreme Court of India, held that a live-in relationship requires effective and adequate protection, especially the female partner and the children born out of such relationships, as it may sustain for a long time and can result into vulnerability and dependency.

India is a state where morality is an extremely important thing to follow. Keeping this in mind, the legislature cannot promote pre-marital sex that comes along with a live-in relationship. It is because ta live-in relationship is a very personal matter and people having an opinion for or against it, may express that. Therefore the parliament has to pay attention to such issue and enforce proper legislation of an act for it. This will help the partners to be secure and to live their life as it is their right to life.

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Post by Amrita Chakravorty

A post-graduate in Law, Amrita Chakravorty has been writing for legal websites for over three years. She provides writing and editing services. Her educational background and experiences have given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. Having a keen interest in working against gender discrimination, she especially enjoys writing about family law, women law and domestic laws.