“The only thing that is constant in this world is change.”
Author: Shefali Chitkara
Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi
Marriage has been considered as a sacred bond in the Indian society since the Vedic period. With the growing economy and people getting more and more aware, there is a need for India to step ahead and walk with the rest of the world by legalizing Live-in relationship. Though it sounds absurd,but it is a fact that green signal has already been given to amend Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code  that seeks to protect the pecuniary interests of other women. Judiciary is only rendering justice, keeping in view the social and constitutional morality. It neither encourages such relations nor prohibits it. People believe live-in to be an alternative that resembles marriage but without its obligations and responsibilities. It is entered into by consent to test compatibility before marriage or to evade the hassles of a formal marriage. Though there is no legal hurdle preventing such relationships but there is still a disapproval faced by some couples from the society. The court has tried to shed light on this issue through various case laws that have been discussed below.
MEANING OF LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIP
This term is applied to couples who are not married. This can be called as cohabitation which is an arrangement in which two people decide to live together on a long-term or permanent basis in an emotionally or sexually intimate relationship. Under this, the couples which are unmarried live together to conduct a long-going relationship similarly as in marriage.
It is neither recognised by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955  nor there is any specific law on the subject of live-in relationship .
LEGAL STATUS IN INDIA
There is no law specific to the subject of live-in relationship in India. The definition is not clear and so is the status of couples in such a relationship. Due to the absence of the law, the courts have come forward to give clarity to this concept. They are of the view that if a man and a woman live together as husband and wife for the long term, the law may presume that they are legally married unless proved contrary .
Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation  was the first case in which the Supreme Court of India recognized the live-in relationship and interpreted it as a valid marriage. In this case, the court gave legal validity to a 50-year live-in relation of a couple. There is a case of Payal Katara v. Superintendent, Nari Niketan and Others  in which the Allahabad High Court held that live-in relationship is not illegal and also said that a man and a woman can live together without getting married as per their wish. It cannot be construed as an offence. This concept was again recognized in the case of Tulsa v. Durghatiya .
The Supreme Court in the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Anr . held that living together is a right to life. In this case, there were some charges against Khushboo under Section 499 of the IPC  and who also endorsed pre-marital sex and live-in relationship. The charges were then dropped. The court said that living together cannot be illegal. However, in the case of Alok Kumar v. State , the court held that this type of relationship does not have any strings attached to it and it does not create any legal bond between the partners. It further held that the partners cannot complain of infidelity or immorality.
The court has made it clear that if a man has a live-in relationship with a woman only for sexual reasons then no partner can claim benefits of a legal marriage. A relationship must comply with certain conditions in order to be eligible for ‘palimony’. The apex court laid down the following conditions :
1. The couple must be of legal age to marry.
2. They must hold themselves out to society as akin to spouses.
3. They must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN
In 2008, the National Commission for Women recommended to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to include female partners of live-in relationships for the Right of Maintenance under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 . This view was given in the case of Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State of Maharashtra and Others . This concept was also supported by the Maharashtra Government by accepting the proposal of the Malimath Committee.
There was a case of Koppisetti Subbarao Subramanian v. State of Andhra Pradesh . In this case, the defendant used to harass the live-in partner for dowry. The court rejected his claim that Section 498 A  did not apply to this case, as he was not married to that woman. The supreme court delivered a landmark judgement by protecting a woman from harassment and dowry in a live-in relationship. Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act  applies to both a married couple as well as a relationship like marriage. There was one more case of Varsha Kapoor v. UOI & Ors., in which the Delhi High Court held that females who are living in a relationship like marriage have a right to file a complaint against his male partner as well as his relatives .
RIGHTS OF MEN
There is a debate till date amongst the men’s rights activists and judges on the rights of a male partner as only women can claim maintenance from men in a live-in relationship. The court has also made an assumption in the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Anr. that live-in relations are initiated and perpetuated by men. There is still a long way to go to achieve the desired justice .
STATUS OF CHILDREN FROM LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS
There is a requirement of a strong provision to safeguard the rights of the children. There must be a provision to secure the future of children and also entitling them the share in the property of both the parents as the future of children of live-in relationship is very insecure in case the partners step out of their relationship.
While saying that a child born out of such a relationship will no longer be considered as an illegitimate child in the case of Tulsa v. Durghatiya , the court set out the important precondition for the same that the parents must have lived under one roof and cohabited for a significantly long period of time for a society to recognize them as husband and wife.
In the case of Bharata Matha & Ors. v. R. Vijaya Renganathan & Others , the court held that children born out of a live-in relationship may be allowed to succeed inheritance in the property of the couple but doesn’t have any claim as against Hindu ancestral coparcenary property. As per Section 16(3) of the amended Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 , irrespective of the relationship between parents, the birth of a child out of live-in relationship has to be viewed independently of the parent’s relationship. The child born out of such a relationship is innocent and is entitled to all the rights and privileges available to children born out of a valid marriage and this was what highlighted in the case of Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun .
However, as per the guidelines governing the adoption of children as notified by the Central Adoption Resource Authority, the couples in a live-in relationship are not allowed to adopt kids .
At present, there is a need to formulate a law that would clarify the concept. There must be some clear provisions that relate to the status of such relationships, registration and also for the rights of parties and children born out of it. These relationships have still not received the consent of the majority of people. It is still considered to be a taboo to the Indian society. However, the status of such a relationship is far more relaxed and progressive in other countries. Therefore, there is a need for a law that could curtail its disadvantages in India too. It has been said that it is better to have a live-in relationship than having a divorced life. Though it may be considered as immoral by some people in the society,but it is not at all illegal.
5. 1. AIR 1978 SC 1557
6. 2001 SCC OnLine All 332
7. (2008) 4 SCC 520: AIR 2008 SC 1193
8. (2010) 5 SCC 600
10. 2010 SCC OnLine Del 2645
13. AIR 1978 (NOC) 808 (Bombay)
14. 2009 INSC 853
17. Writ Petition (Crl.) No. 638 of 2010.
20. (2008) 4 SCC 520: AIR 2008 SC 1193
21. (2010) 11 SCC 483: AIR 2010 SC 2685
23. (2011) 11 SCC 1: (2011) 2 UJ 1342