Live-in-relationship-equal to marriage
Living together is a right to life, the Supreme Court said apparently referring to Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and liberty as a fundamental right. The Supreme Court made the observation while reserving its judgment on a special leave petition filed by noted South Indian actress Khusboo, seeking to quash 22 criminal cases filed against her after she allegedly endorsed premarital sex in interviews to various magazines in 2005.
The Acceptance of Live-in relationship
The Supreme Court controversial observation okaying live-in relationships and premarital sex has generated a fierce debate across the country. The historic observation has frowned many orthodox groups fearing that it will destroy the sanctity of marriage. A fragment of society including noted social activists and prominent dignitaries have stepped ahead and shared their precious views on the raging debate.
Social Problems in Live-in Relationships
Social scientists have already identified grave social problems like young age pregnancy of adolescent girls, drug abuse, violence and juvenile delinquencies and in the wake of the controversial ruling, the erstwhile objectionable social behaviour gets legalized, many felt. On the other hand, the section advocating freedom for choosing a live-in relationship has hailed it as a pragmatic move. The recent observation, as they see, should be welcomed because it lays emphasis on individual freedom. It opens frontiers to understand the personality traits of their partner well. Since there are no legal complications in a live-in relationship, walking out of a live-in relationship would be easier than walking out of a marriage. Metro life that throws floodgates of challenges also supports this kind of an arrangement. The individuals should be free to live as they think best, subject only to the limitation that their actions and choices should not cause harm to others. As expected, women from various walks of life have welcomed progressive moves on a live-in relationship.
Live-in-relationship – Equal to Marriage
“live in relationship” would amount to a “relationship in the nature of marriage”.This is not the first time when a live-in relationship is in the ambit of debates and discussions. There has been a longstanding controversy whether a relationship between a man and a woman living together without marriage can be recognised by law. With changing social hypothesis entering society, in most places, it is legal for unmarried people to live together. Now even in a country like India bounded by innumerable cultural ethos and rites, the law finds legally nothing wrong in a live-in relationship. Over the years there has been a marked change in the trend of society where live-in-relationship has come to be accepted, and such a relationship is not out of the ordinary. Some of these couples, who are residing together, never contract a legally binding marriage within the parameters and definition of a marriage as defined under the Hindu Marriage Act.
Two Adults can live together –
The Supreme Court, on an earlier occasion, while deciding a case involving the legitimacy of a woman born out of wedlock has ruled that if a man and woman are involved in a live-in relationship for a long period, they will be treated as a married couple and their child would be called legitimate. Also, the recent changes introduced in law through the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 give protection to women involved in such relationships for a reasonably long period and promises them the status of wives. This, however, cannot be construed as law promotes such relationships. Law traditionally has been biased in favour of marriage.
It reserves many rights and privileges to married persons to preserve and encourage the institution of marriage. Such stands, in particular cases of live-in relationship, it appears that, by and large, is based on the assumption that they are not between equals, and therefore women must be protected by the courts from the patriarchal power that defines marriage, which covers these relationships too. An expression of opinion in favour of non-dogmatic and non-conventional morality, as in the present case, cannot be aground to penalise hence has to be tolerated. The cumulative impact of multiple factors have brought about such changes in society and law needs to be developed with the dynamics of social behaviour.
Owing to the surmounting number of such cases, the Supreme Court is simply acknowledging the social reality. Moreover, the law does not prescribe how we should live; it is ethics and social norms which explain the essence of living in the welfare model. While the Supreme Court opinion might not have the undesirable effect on more and more couples preferring live-in relationships rather than opting to wed, it could certainly embolden more young men and women as they would now be convinced that there is no breach of law in the live-in relationships. One can only hope that as mature adults such couples would weigh the pros and cons and take into account the impact of their decision on their family and most importantly on themselves.
Opinion of Court on Live-in-relationship-
Various issues have arisen out of this relationship, one of them being whether living together of a man and woman as husband and wife for a considerable period of time would raise the presumption of a valid marriage . This question came to be answered in a judgment rendered by the Honble Apex Court in Chanmuniya’s Case where the Honble Apex Court held “where partners live together as husband and wife, a presumption would arise in favour of wedlock.” The Honble Apex Court was seized of a matter where the appellant and the respondent therein were related and lived in the same house by a social customs and were treated as husband and wife. In fact, the appellant was the younger brother of the husband of the respondent-wife. On the death of the husband of the respondent, the marriage of the appellant and the respondent was solemnized by social custom with katha and sindur.
The Honble Apex Court, relying on judgments of the House of Lords, came to the conclusion that there was a strong presumption in favour of the marriage. Several other judgments were also relied upon while holding that where a man and woman have lived together for a long time and even though they may not have undergone legal necessities of a valid marriage if the man deserts her, he should be made liable to pay the woman maintenance. It was also further held that a man should not be allowed to benefit from the legal loopholes by enjoying the advantages of a de facto marriage without undertaking the duties and obligations. Any other interpretation would lead the woman to vagrancy and destitution, which the provision of maintenance in Section 125 is meant to prevent.
The Malimath Committee Report
In November 2000 the Malimath Committee submitted its report, it made several recommendations under the head “offences against women”. One of its recommendations was to amend Section 125 CrPC so as to alter the meaning of “wife”.
Now, a wife is a lady who were previously in a live-in relationship and now her accomplice has abandoned her at his will so a lady in live-in relationship can now get the status of a wife.
Judicial Response to Live-in Relationships
“With changing social norms of legitimacy in every society, including ours, what was illegitimate in the past may be legitimate today.”
— Honourable Justice A.K. Ganguly in Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun
The recent judgement of Supreme Court has declared five categories where the concept of live-in relationships can be proven right by the Indian Law –
- An adult male and an adult female in a domestic relationship, both unmarried. This is the most uncomplicated kind of a live-in relationship.
- A married man and an unmarried woman in a domestic relationship, created the relationship unknowingly.
- An adult unmarried man and a married woman in a domestic relationship, entered knowingly. Note: This kind of relationship can lead to a conviction under Indian Penal Code for the crime of Adultery.
- Relationship between an unmarried adult female and a married male in a domestic relationship, entered unknowingly.
- Same sex partners ( gay or lesbian) in a domestice relationship.
Guidelines by the Supreme Court for Live-in-relationships
- Duration of Relationship
Section 2 of the Domestic Violence Act – Two individuals who live together or have lived together in the past is considered as a domestic relationship. And a woman who is in a live-in relationship can seek legal relief against her partner in case of abuse and harassment.
- Resources and Financial Arrangements
Financially, sharing bank accounts, acquiring immovable properties in joint names or in the name of the woman shares in separate and joint names, so as to have a long-standing relationship, may be a guiding factor.
- Sexual Relationship
Marriage like relationship refers to sexual relationship, not just for pleasure, but for emotional and intimate relationship are valid.
Partners in a live-in relationship cannot inherit the property of their partners.the Hindu Succession Act, do not specify the succession rights.
- Children from live-in relationship
Children from these relationsing a hips have serious legal implications. Section 112 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 recognizes a legitimate child, only if a child is born during a valid marriage between the mother and the father. But, Section 125 CrPC provides maintenance to children whether they are legitimate or illegitimate, till they are minor or till the time they cannot take care of themselves.
- Adopting a child/children
Couple in live-in relationship are barred from adopting a child because cohibiton is not considered a stable relationship in India.
The idea of live-in was not entirely new, it existed even before the judiciary protected individuals and then the society would boycott the perpetrator. But, the Supreme Court has at various instances taken the liberty to elaborate on the concept through their judgements.