Legal Status of Live in relationships in India
With changing times and modernisation, the social dynamics in India have undergone a few positive changes. And a series of progressive judgements over the last decade is a testament to that. For instance, in 2017, the Supreme Court recognised privacy as a fundamental right in KS. Puttaswamy v. Union of India. In 2014, the SC affirmed the rights of transgender persons in NALSA v. Union of India. And in 2018, it decriminalised S. 377 of the Indian Penal Code in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India.
Several judgments have contested the archaic notions of Indian society. However, certain social truths still await acceptance and are seen through the lens of patriarchal morality; a classic example is live-in relationships.
While a fraction of the Indian population has accepted it, a sizeable chunk is still hostile towards the idea. Even though now it is pretty normalised in Bollywood and regional cinema through movies like ‘Luka Chhuppi’, there still is hesitance.
Meaning And Legal Status Of Live-In Relationship In India
Although the term ‘live-in relationship’ fails a precise definition, it refers to the domestic cohabitation between two unmarried individuals. The concept of live-in relationships is becoming popular among couples. However, it may be said that the prevalence is more in metros and tier 1 cities, especially among the upwardly mobile youngsters. Individuals prefer live-in relationships over marriages for various reasons.
Often couples tend to resort to live-in relationships to test their compatibility before binding themselves together in marriage. It provides a better opportunity for them to understand each other and make well-informed decisions in serious commitments like marriage.
Particularly in countries like India, where divorce is frowned upon and stigmatised, live-in relationships allow separation without the state’s interference.
Precarious Love: Forms Of Live-In Relationships In India
Live-in relationships can be broadly categorised into three distinct categories for ease of understanding. This classification helps understand if these categories fall within the broad ambit of the term ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’.
Keeping with the term ‘relationship in nature of marriage’, three kinds of scenarios dispute this terminology. First, could be a domestic cohabitation between two unmarried heterosexual individuals. Second, adulterous live-in relationships. And finally, domestic relationships between same-sex partners.
The most common, pervasive and accepted form is the first type of live-in relationship where two unmarried heterosexual individuals willfully cohabit. However, most societal antipathy and legal issues arise against the second and third scenarios mentioned above.
For instance, in Kusum v. State of UP, a married woman had ‘eloped with another man’, continued to cohabit with him for five years. However, the Allahabad High Court disallowed the woman to seek protection under the garb of a live-in relationship since her marriage was not legally dissolved. Therefore, her new relationship could not be said to fall within the expression relationship ‘in the nature of marriage. Consequently, it was not covered under the ambit of Section 2(f) of the Act.
In Reshma Begum v. the State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court underlined that to constitute a ‘domestic relationship’ under Section 2(f) of the Act, the possibility of a legal marriage is a sine qua non. In the case, the Court asserted that the impugned provision could not be interpreted excessively to promote adulterous relationships. Thus, the Court held that the relationship between the parties was not ‘in the nature of marriage’. Therefore, the applicant was not entitled to any relief under the Act.
Legal Status of Children Born Out of Live-in Relationship
In Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan, children born out of live-in relationships received the legal status of legitimacy for the first time. The Supreme Court said that if a man and woman live under the same roof and cohabit for considerable years, there will be a presumption of marriage under Section 114 of the Evidence Act. Therefore, the children born to them will be considered legitimate and rightfully entitled to receive a share in ancestral property.
Due to legislative ignorance, individuals’ in live-in relationships are not given protection under a prescribed set of rules or regulations. The current Indian legal framework surrounding live-in relationships is primarily a result of a series of relatively progressive judicial precedents. The Indian judiciary, on multiple instances, has delineated the difference between social morality and constitutional morality by legitimising live-in relationships and upholding their rights.