In this article, Aditi Shastri explores the legal contours and history of the live in relationship. It will try to answer the following questions- In an age of major social, economic and political changes, have we left behind Indian traditions, culture and the conservative mindset or are we trying to embrace it our own way? Is the concept of live-in-relation is something that we’ve adopted from western culture or is it something that we already had in ancient India? In a land of diversified culture like India why there isn’t a place for live-in-relations?
A live in relationship is a living arrangement in which a male and a female agree live together as a married couple without being actually married. This type of relationship is becoming more and more prevalent these days due to open mindsets and an attempt to test compatibility between two people before getting married. Live-in-relation is a new term but the existence of this concept is seen in ancient India . In vedas eight types of marriages are described out of which Gandharva type resembles to the concept of live-in-relations. Gandharva type is a kind of marriage in which a man and a woman mutually consent to get married. This neither involves the family of the couple nor a particular ritual to solemnise the marriage. It is just a word-of-mouth commitment. But it still comes under the purview of marriage accordingly to ancient India. Seems like people in olden times were open enough to accept many of the things that have been tagged as a taboo nowadays ?
The concept of live-in-relationship still faces many restrictions from conservative sub section of the society due to its belief of not engaging into sexual acts before marriage or living together with your potential future spouse before marriage or loosing virginity before marriage.
In a landmark judgment passed by Supreme Court on 13th April by the bench of Justice MY Eqbal and Justice Amitava Roy in a property dispute it was held that couple living –in-together will be presumed as legally married and consequently the women would be eligible to inherit property of her partner after his death. The bench stated that continuous co-habilitation of a couple could raise the presumption of a valid marriage and that it would be for the opposite party to prove that they were not legally married. The dispute was related to a family where members claimed that their grandfather, who was living with a woman for twenty years after his wife’s death, was not legally wedded to the woman and the lady was not entitled to inherit the property of the old man after his death. They contended that the lady was only the mistress of their grandfather.
In many European countries live in relationships are very common. The concept is gaining popularity in India as well. But in India there is no specific legislation on this subject and the laws are in the form of court verdict not as statutory laws which varies from case to case. From different cases and the verdicts given in those cases few important conditions of a live-in-relationship are observed. In case of D.Vehusamy v/s D.Patchaiamaal following conditions were laid down for a valid live-in-relation:-
- The couple must hold themselves out to society as akin to spouses for a significant time period-People in society should know about the couple living together without marriage for a significant period of time not for merely few days.
- They must be of legal age to marry- In many live-in-relations the couple is presumed to be married. A valid live-in-relation is considered only when both the partners are of legal age to get married. If they are not of the age to get married therefore they cannot be presumed to be married.
- They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage , including being unmarried- If either of the partner is already married to someone else then and the other partner has full knowledge about it then the partners are not considered to be in a live-in-relation
- They must have voluntarily cohabited
Legal Status of a child born out of a live-in-relationship
The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 gives legitimacy to every child, irrespective of void or voidable marriage. Recently Supreme Court held in the case of Bharata Matha & Ors v/s R.Vjaya Renganathan & Ors that child born out of Live-in-relationship may be allowed to succeed inheritance in the property of parents but doesn’t have claim against Hindu ancestral property. The law relating to the child born out of a live-in-relationship is still unclear.
Provision for women in case of domestic violence
In case of Indra Sharma v/s VKV Sharma it was seen that the appellant entered into a live-in-relationship with the respondent knowing that he was married and further the appellant got pregnant, three times and each pregnancy resulting in abortion . Until this case came up there was no provision or legal aid for women against any kind of violence in live-in-relation.
Section 2(f) of The Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was altered after the Indra Sharma case and included provision of protection to women who are in a long standing live-in-relationship and have faced domestic violence .It started considering females who are not formally married but are living with a male in a relationship, which is in nature of marriage. It defines domestic relationship which means a relationship between two persons who live or have at any point 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.
In India society still frowns upon this concept of relationship because of many reasons but the most prominent reason is because of the fear of being used for sexual needs and due to lack of legal security. Unlike in a marriage where both the partners are legally bound and have legal rights, partners in live-in-relationships are not legally bound and do not owe legal rights towards each other’s assets. To make live-in-relationships more socially acceptable India needs proper statutory laws that properly define the rights of men and women in a live-in-relationship and children born out of them. Maybe then more and more people can accept this concept.