Legal Status of Live in Relationship in India

Law
09-Jan-2024
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Live-in relationships till date haven’t been given enough respect and live-in relationships without divorce from previous spouses is an entirely new segment here, which is often correlated with bigamy and adultery. Conventional wisdom and cultural expectations around relationships are changing in a world where change is the only constant. The idea of living together without divorce is one such shift that has attracted notice recently. The idea that marriage is the only acceptable form of connection is being challenged here by this nontraditional approach to companionship.

This blog will go into the definition of cohabitation without divorce, the reasoning behind the decision, and, above all, the legal standing of these agreements under Indian law. The blog aims to provide better awareness of live-in relationships while showing the previous and current status of live-in relationships in India.

Are Live-In Relationships legal in India?

Live-in relationships are an entire discussion in India, even though they have been accepted as legal by Indian Laws. Such partnerships and relationships aren’t very common and accepted as of now, and hence, do not have very strict or specific laws. Due to this uncertainty, couples have to go through social stigma, but the Indian Supreme Court has recognized the legal status of cohabitation while highlighting the need to safeguard the rights of those who live together, and hence, the live-in relationships are LEGAL!

However, the absence of a specific statute leaves some things up for interpretation, particularly when it comes to property rights, financial obligations, and the status of kids born out of these kinds of partnerships. In order to protect their rights and interests, those who take this course must be informed of their legal situation.

Laws Governing Live-In Relationships in India

The following are some significant legal rulings and factors about cohabitation in India:

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005:

The DV Act protects women who are in marriage and even those who are in live-in relationships. The Supreme Court had stated that women in live-in relationships who might experience abuse of any sort, including physical, verbal, emotional, or financial, have all the rights to claim protection under this Act.

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005:

Regardless of whether she is in a live-in relationship or is legally married to the male of the home, this Act recognizes a woman's right to reside in a shared household. Live-in relationships are included in the definition of a "relationship like marriage" in this clause. It gives women in these kinds of partnerships access to the Act's protections.

Legal Acknowledgement:

Through several rulings and judgments, the Indian Supreme Court has upheld that live-in relationships are legal and should be granted the status of a couple. Such rulings provide legal protection to couples and have their legal rights standing for them.

Rights & Responsibilities of Partner in Live-In

As live-in relationships grow more legalized in India, it becomes quite important that the rights and laws of such relationships go hand in hand. Even compared to traditional and legal marriages, where there are quite defined and legally bound rules and regulations for the partners.

Partners' Rights:

  • Right to Maintenance: Sometimes, due to disagreements, the partners end up splitting. As per Indian Laws, they do have the right to seek maintenance and financial support from their partner.
  • Rights of Inheritance: Even though this might sound weird, yes live-in partners do have the right to inherit property as per the Supreme Court, and it happened in the case where the will is absent. In such cases, legal counsel is advised to be assigned to detail the process and provide a fair inheritance.
  • Protection Against Domestic Violence: The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 provides legal recourse for partners who experience physical, verbal, emotional, or financial abuse, therefore providing them with more safety.
  • Rights to Child Custody: A partner in a live-in relationship still has the right to gain child custody and provide child support to their kids as per the Indian Laws.

Partner Responsibilities:

  • Accountable Liabilities: Financial responsibility for one another's health may exist between partners throughout the relationship and, in certain situations, even after a breakup.
  • Honouring Autonomy and Consent: In a live-in relationship, or any other relationship for that matter, both the partners share a duty of respecting each other's autonomy and consent for all things.
  • Property and Assets Shared: To prevent conflicts, it is essential to make ownership and administration of shared property and assets clear. When creating agreements to safeguard the interests of both spouses, legal guidance might be helpful.
  • Responsibilities as parents: When a child is born out of marriage, both partners have to bear the child-rearing duties including education and parenting. As a parent, they would have to obey this duty.

Social Stigma and Discrimination

There is still controversy around the acceptability of live-in partnerships, which are characterized by prejudice and social shame. In this investigation, we examine the difficulties experienced by couples who choose to live together in Indian society.

  • Stereotypes and Cultural Views: Conventional Thoughts: Live-in relationships are an alien concept in the traditional Indian world, which is why it causes a lot of rejection and social exclusion for couples.
  • Expectations within the family: Families often disapprove of live-in relationships and are of the traditional mindsets and hence fear social disapproval, emotional damage to their family, and social damage to their reputation.
  • Social Discrimination: Society of Judgement: The couples who live together are often isolated from gatherings and societies and are seen with eyes filled with judgment and criticism.
  • Consequences for the workplace: Due to the fact that workplace relationships and career chances can be negatively impacted by social prejudices, some people in live-in relationships may experience discrimination in professional settings.
  • Absence of Legal Approval: The lack of legality and clarity in Indian Laws causes more and more boost in society to discriminate against individuals who are in live-in relationships.
  • Possibility of Abuse: Because they might not have the same legal protections as married couples, those in live-in relationships may be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to the lack of legal certainty.
  • Problems that Women Face: Bias Against Gender: The bias against gender, even though with consistent efforts, hasn’t been abolished, and the women who are in live-in relationships go through so much more compared to men in terms of dealing with society.
  • Security Issues: Women in live-in relationships may be more vulnerable when there are no legal protections, particularly in situations where there may be disagreements or abandonment and no appropriate legal redress.
  • Shifting Generational Attitudes and the Hope for Acceptance: Since the new generations are more open-minded and are accepting of global social standards, the discrimination there is lesser compared to older generations, but it is being looked forward to that this can be the beginning of a new change.
  • Influence of the Media: In the media and popular culture, positive representations of cohabitation may be extremely effective in dispelling myths and promoting acceptance.

Case Study and Landmark Judgements 

The landmark judgments for live-in relationships are the following ones, but there haven’t been any landmark judgments specifically for live-in relationships without divorce. Here are the judgments:

2010 - D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal

The Indian Supreme Court established a set of standards for judging whether a nonmarital relationship between two adults meets the requirements for a "relationship in the nature of marriage" and falls under the purview of a domestic relationship as defined by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

2010 - S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Anr.

The Supreme Court ruled that adults have the right to live together even if they are not married and that live-in relationships are neither unlawful nor immoral.

2013 - Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma

The Supreme Court ruled in this case that a woman in a live-in relationship has rights to maintenance and protection under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 in the event that her partner departs her or refuses to provide for her.

2018 - Payal Sharma v. N. Talwar

The Delhi High Court ruled that a child born out of a live-in relationship is entitled to maintenance under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 and that a woman in a live-in relationship is entitled to the same rights as a legally wedded wife under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

2018 - Lalita Toppo v. State of Jharkhand

In this instance, the Supreme Court ruled that if a live-in couple has cohabitated for an extended period of time and has gained social acceptance as a married pair, they may be considered to be married.

Is a Live-In Relationship Legal in India without Divorce?

Even though live-in relationships have been made legal in India, live-in relationships that are between two people who haven’t divorced their spouses are an entirely different concept. In a very recent case, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana observed that “If a couple has been living together in a live-in relationship” while being married to someone else and not seeking divorce there, it would constitute bigamy and would be an offense under Section 494/495 of the IPC". Further,  the Court believes that this sort of live-in relationship is an attempt to avoid the criminal prosecution of adultery and just seek the Court’s approval over it.

Since there aren’t very specific laws on live-in relationships in India and very few such cases have come to light that too quite recently, it makes it difficult to give a clear-cut answer as to whether it is legal or not, because as per the Punjab and Haryana High Court, it is not legal, whereas the decision for Delhi High Court remains pending as of now. On the safe side, there are high chances that it will be given the status of illegal as it does relate to bigamy and adultery and aligns with it in such characteristics.

Conclusion

The nature of relationships is changing in a more varied culture, and cohabitation without divorce is starting to look like a good option in place of traditional marriages. Even if these agreements seem flexible and freeing, people who are taking this unorthodox route must be aware of the legal ramifications.

Legislators must fill up the legal loopholes as the legal system develops, giving people in cohabiting partnerships without a divorce clarity and protection. The objective should be to provide a legal framework that respects the rights and choices of people who choose to follow unusual routes in search of love and friendship as we traverse this new region.

References:

https://www.livelaw.in/high-court/punjab-and-haryana-high-court/punjab-haryana-high-court-live-in-relationship-without-obtaining-divorce-spouse-amount-to-bigamy-242282#:~:text=The%20Punjab%20%26%20Haryana%20High%20Court,494%2C%20495%20of%20the%20IPC.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/live-in-without-divorce-from-previous-marriage-is-a-punishable-offense-high-court/articleshow/105199076.cms 

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/live-in-relationship-without-dissolving-previous-marriage-is-bigamy-says-high-court/articleshow/105195407.cms

https://m.timesofindia.com/india/man-living-with-a-woman-without-divorcing-his-spouse-cant-be-called-live-in-relationship-hc/articleshow/105210812.cms

https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-10718-live-in-relationship-laws-in-india.html

https://lawchakra.in/punjab-and-haryana-high-court-rules-live-in-without-divorce-equals-bigamy/

https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2023/10/06/delhi-high-courts-decision-encompassing-live-in-relationship-without-divorce/

https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/person-involved-livein-relation-without-divorce-spouse-bigamy-charge-ph-high-court-184934