Live-in relationships are still considered beyond the pale in India. But, in a country where parents sometimes even murder their children for marrying out of caste, many brave couples do live together without getting married. They face social opprobrium and many legal hurdles. Since I am on the verge of such a relationship, I thought it’s worth preparing a guide on what a couple intending to live together should be prepared for.
Live-ins and the law
In many other countries, there has been a broader understanding of the idea of a couple and a family, which can be seen in their legal recognition of prenuptial agreements, cohabitation, civil union, and domestic partnership. In India, the Domestic Violence Act 2005 included within its purview live-in relationships under which a woman having a man “a relationship in the nature of marriage” can go to court if abused. Since this covers economic abuse, it affords women protection in case of a violation of their financial rights. The Supreme Court has stated that if a man and a woman ”lived like husband and wife” for a long period and had children, the judiciary would presume that the two were married.
In another case, the court even declared, “Living together is a right to life.”
In having joint accounts, insurance, and visas, and possibly in visitation rights to a hospital, it could be tough if the couple is not legally married. International chess player Anuradha Beniwal was peacefully living in with her partner with no objections from family. (She did face veiled disapproval from some mothers who stopped sending their daughters to her for chess tuitions.) But when her partner decided to take up a job offer in London and she too was willing to move, they got married in a rush to avoid visa troubles.
How is live-in defined under Indian Law?
The Supreme Court in Indra Sarma vs. V.K.V. Sarma defined live-in relationships in five distinct ways- A domestic cohabitation between an adult unmarried male and an adult unmarried female. This is the simplest kind of relationship.
A domestic cohabitation between a married man and an adult unmarried woman (entered mutually). A domestic cohabitation between an adult unmarried man and a married woman (entered mutually).
These two are the most complex grey areas of acknowledging a live-in relationships. Furthermore, the second type of relationship mentioned is adultery which is punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
A domestic cohabitation between an unmarried adult female and a married male entered unknowingly is punishable under the Indian Penal Code as well. A domestic cohabitation between two homosexual partners, which cannot lead to a marital relationship in India as no marital laws against homosexuality are defined yet.
Legal Status of Live-in
In most western countries there is a broader understanding of the idea of a couple in a relationship, which is evident in their legal recognition of prenuptial agreements, civil and domestic union of couples, etc. However, it is not the same in India.
The Apex Court in so many of its judgments has stated that if a man and a woman “lived like husband and wife” in a long-term relationship and even had children, the judiciary would presume that the two were married and same laws would be applicable.
In another instance, the Apex court even declared that for a man and a woman in love to live together is part of the right to life and not a “criminal offence”. Therefore, live-in relationships are legal in India.
Difference between marriage and live-in relationship
The institution of marriage is a socially and ritually accepted union and a contract between spouses that institutes rights and legal obligations towards each other. In light of the diverse culture in India, separate laws have been formulated which lay down the procedure and guidelines for the proper execution of marriages in various religions. Marriage laws have been created to provide remedies for disputes arising out of marriage in different religions.
In addition to the law of maintenance under personal laws, Section-125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure also provides for maintenance if the wife is unable to maintain herself. Women can also seek extra-maintenance apart from the maintenance received by her under any other law as per Section- 20 (1) (d) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
- Live-in relationship:
There is no law binding the partners together, and subsequently, either of the partners can walk out of the relationship, as and when they wish to do so.
There is no legal definition of live-in relationship, and therefore, the legal status of such type of relations is also unconfirmed. The right to maintenance in a live-in relationship is decided by the court by the Domestic Violence Act and the individual facts of the case.
Though the common man is still hesitant in accepting this kind of relationship, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act provides for the protection and maintenance thereby granting the right of alimony to an aggrieved live-in partner.
Protection against exploitation of women and children in live-in relationships
- Maintenance of lady partner
The right of maintenance is available to wives under all personal laws in India. However, none of the religions recognizes and accept live-in relationships. Since no remedy is granted to women involved in a live-in relationship, Indian Courts have widened the scope of maintenance under the Criminal Procedure Code.
Therefore, Section- 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code has been provided to give a legal right of maintenance to lady partners in or out of a marriage.
- Domestic Violence
The Domestic Violence Act was enforced as an attempt to protect women from abusive (physical, mental, verbal, or economic) marital relationships. However, as per Section- 2 (f), it not only applies to a married couple, but also to a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’.
Therefore, considering all this even the Supreme Court in a couple of cases has allowed live-in relationships to be covered within the ambit of the law specified.
- Children out of marriage
Partners living together for a long time may have kids together. However, live-in couples are not allowed to adopt kids as per the Guidelines Governing the Adoption of Children as notified by the Central Adoption Resource Authority. In case of dispute with respect to the custody of the child, you may also consult a Child Custody Lawyer.
- Custody and maintenance rights of children
The position on the maintenance rights of children out of marriage varies in personal marriage laws. For instance, under the Hindu Law, the father has to maintain the child, whereas under the Muslim Law the father has been absolved of such an obligation.
However, under Section- 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the remedy is available for children who are unable to claim maintenance under personal laws. Section- 125 provides a legal right of maintenance to wives, children.
The media misprinted the report that couples who go for live-in relationships are more likely to divorce each other. But that is not true. Reports have been shown that the couples who go for live-in relationships are more opposite to divorce then the ones who marry without living with each other because of their social or religious concerns. It’s quite rational also because most couples go for live-in relations because they hate to be divorced, so why they will do the same after marriage?
Well still the opposing communities are on the rock, and it is uncertain that the live-in concept is acceptable or not? But it is rooting up day by day and it needs ethical and legal concerns.