Background of Domestic Violence Act and Live-In Relationship in India

The D.V. Act has been enacted to provide a remedy in Civil Law for protection of women from being victims of domestic violence and to prevent occurrence of domestic violence in the society. The DV Act has been enacted to provide an effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution, who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family.  The DV Act has been enacted to uphold the constitutional principles laid down in Article 15(3), reinforced vide Article 39 of the Constitution of India for protection of women in India.

Protection of women has been recommended by the Malimath Committee report and even under Section 125 CrPC, a man who marries a second wife, during the subsistence of the first wife, should not escape his liability to maintain his second wife.

The DV Act recognizes the right of a woman to live in violence free home and provides legal remedies if this right is violated. The Legal remedies pertain to civil reliefs such as injunctions, protection order, compensation, custody order and monetary relief or compensation. However, the Act does not provide for arrests made on a complaint filed except when the accused has violated a court order or continues to commit violence.

The objective of the Act is to provide civil law relief to the woman without dependence on the police to initiate action. This Act is not a criminal Act law. The Woman can file the complaint and it would be put in the Domestic Incidence Report (DIR) format which shall be sent to the Magistrate.

In Indra Sarma v V.K.V Sarma Criminal Appeal No. 2009 of 2013 (SLP No. 4895 of 2012), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that:

“Domestic Violence is undoubtedly a human rights issue, which was not properly taken care of in this country even though the Vienna Accord 1994 and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) had acknowledged that domestic violence was undoubtedly a human rights issue. UN Committee on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in its general recommendations had also exhorted the member countries to take steps to protect women against violence of any kind, especially that occurring within the family, a phenomenon widely prevalent in India. Presently, when a woman is subjected to cruelty by husband or his relatives, it is an offence punishable under Section 498A IPC. The Civil Law, it was noticed, did not address this phenomenon in its entirety. Consequently, the Parliament, to provide more effective protection of rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution under Articles 14, 15 and 21, who are victims of violence of any kind occurring in the family, enacted the DV Act.”

Live-in relationship, as such, as already indicated, is a relationship which has not been socially accepted in India, unlike many other countries. In Lata Singh v. State of U.P. [AIR 2006 SC 2522] it was observed that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of heterosexual sex does not amount to any offence even though it may be perceived as immoral. However, in order to provide a remedy in Civil Law for protection of women, from being victims of such relationship, and to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence in the society, first time in India, the DV Act has been enacted to cover the couple having relationship in the nature of marriage, persons related by consanguinity, marriages etc. We have few other legislations also where reliefs have been provided to woman placed in certain vulnerable situations.

To understand the nature of relationship there must be a close analysis of the entire relationship, in other words, all facets of the interpersonal relationship need to be taken into account.

The Court cannot isolate individual factors, because there may be endless scope for differences in human attitudes and activities and a variety of combinations of circumstances which may fall for consideration.

Invariably, it may be a question of fact and degree, whether a relationship between two unrelated persons of the opposite sex meets the tests judicially evolved.

Certain Provisions Guiding Domestic Violence and Live-In Relationship

Section 3 of the DV Act (the Act) deals with domestic violence and reads as under:

  1. Definition of domestic violence.- For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it-

(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or

(c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or

(d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.

Explanation I.- For the purposes of this section,-

(i)  “physical abuse” means any act or conduct which is of such a nature as to cause bodily pain, harm, or danger to life, limb, or health or impair the health or development of the aggrieved person and includes assault, criminal intimidation and criminal force;

(ii) “sexual abuse” includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of woman;

(iii) “verbal and emotional abuse” includes-

(a) insults, ridicule, humiliation, name calling and insults or ridicule specially with regard to not having a child or a male child; and

(b) repeated threats to cause physical pain to any person in whom the aggrieved person is interested.

(iv) “economic abuse” includes-

(a) deprivation of all or any economic or financial resources to which the aggrieved person is entitled under any law or custom whether payable under an order of a court or otherwise or which the aggrieved person requires out of necessity including, but not limited to, household necessities for the aggrieved person and her children, if any, stridhan, property, jointly or separately owned by the aggrieved person, payment of rental related to the shared household and maintenance;

(b) disposal of household effects, any alienation of assets whether movable or immovable, valuables, shares, securities, bonds and the like or other property in which the aggrieved person has an interest or is entitled to use by virtue of the domestic relationship or which may be reasonably required by the aggrieved person or her children or her stridhan or any other property jointly or separately held by the aggrieved person; and

(c) prohibition or restriction to continued access to resources or facilities which the aggrieved person is entitled to use or enjoy by virtue of the domestic relationship including access to the shared household.

Explanation II.- For the purpose of determining whether any act, omission, commission or conduct of the respondent constitutes” domestic violence” under this section, the overall facts and circumstances of the case shall be taken into consideration.

Section 2(f), of the Act, deals with a relationship between two persons (of the opposite sex) who live or have lived together in a shared household when they are related by:

a) Consanguinity

b) Marriage

c) Through a relationship in the nature of marriage

d) Adoption

e) Family members living together as joint family.

“The definition clause mentions only five categories of relationships which exhausts itself since the expression “means”, has been used. When a definition clause is defined to “means” such and such, the definition is prima facie restrictive and exhaustive. Section 2(f) has not used the expression “include” so as to make the definition exhaustive. It is in that context that the meaning of the expression “a relationship in the nature of marriage” is restrictive in meaning:

“Section 2(f) of the DV Act defines “domestic relationship” to mean, inter alia, a relationship between two persons who live or have lived together at such point of time in a shared household, through a relationship in the nature of marriage. The expression a relationship in the nature of marriage” is also described as defacto relationship, marriage like relationship, cohabitation, couple relationship, meretricious relationship (now known as committed intimate relationship) etc.”

Three elements of common law marriage are (1) agreement to be married (2) living together as husband and wife, (3) holding out to the public that they are married. Sharing a common household and duty to live together form part of the “Consortium Omnis Vitae” which obliges spouses to live together, afford each other reasonable marital privileges and rights and be honest and faithful to each other. One of the most important invariable consequences of marriage is the reciprocal support and the responsibility of maintenance of the common household, jointly and severally. Marriage as an institution has great legal significance and various obligations and duties flow out of marital relationship, as per law, in the matter of inheritance of property, successionship, etc. Marriage, therefore, involves legal requirements of formality, publicity, exclusivity and all the legal consequences flow out of that relationship.

Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 and which reads as under:

  1. Conditions for a Hindu marriage – A marriage may be solemnized between any two hindus, if the following conditions are fulfilled, namely:-

(i)  neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage (ii) at the time of the marriage, neither party-

(a) is incapable of giving a valid consent to it in consequence of unsoundness of mind; or

(b) though capable of giving a valid consent, has been suffering from mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and the procreation of children; or

(c) has been subject to recurrent attacks of insanity; (iii) the bridegroom has completed the age of twenty- one years and the bride the age of eighteen years at the time of the marriage; (iv) the parties are not within the degrees of prohibited relationship unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two;

(v)  the parties are not sapindas of each other, unless the custom or usage governing each of them permits of a marriage between the two.

Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act deals with the Ceremonies for a Hindu marriage and reads as follows:

  1. Ceremonies for a Hindu marriage. –

(1) A Hindu marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the customary rites and ceremonies of either party thereto.

(2) Where such rites and ceremonies include the saptapadi (that is, the taking of seven steps by the bridegroom and the bride jointly before the sacred fire), the marriage becomes complete and binding when the seventh step is taken.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal v. State of Gujarat (2013) 2 SCALE 198 held that marital relationship means the legally protected marital interest of one spouse to another which include marital obligation to another like companionship, living under the same roof, sexual relation and the exclusive enjoyment of them, to have children, their up-bringing, services in the home, support, affection, love, liking and so on.

Guidelines to Understand Whether Protection Should Be Granted to Women in Live-In Relationships

In D. Velusamy vs. D.Patchaimmal (2010) 10 SCC 469, The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that whether a relationship in the nature of marriage akin to a common law marriage between a male and female partner as provided under Section 2(f) of the DV Act, the following conditions must be met in addition to proof of the fact that parties had lived together in a shared household as defined in Section 2(s) of the DV Act:

  1. The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses.
  2. They must be of legal age to marry.
  3. They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried.
  4. They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time

In a recent decision, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indra Sarma v V.K.V Sarma Criminal Appeal No. 2009 of 2013 (SLP No. 4895 of 2012) have suggested several guidelines (not exhaustive) which give further insight into what kind of relationships (live-in relationships) are considered by the Court to be in the nature of marriage as defined under Section 2(f) of the Act:

1) Duration of period of relationship

Section 2(f) of the DV Act has used the expression at any point of time, which means a reasonable period of time to maintain and continue a relationship which may vary from case to case, depending upon the fact situation.

(2) Shared household

The expression has been defined under Section 2(s) of the DV Act, which provides:

“shared household means a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household.”

(3) Pooling of Resources and Financial Arrangements Supporting each other, or any one of them, financially, sharing bank accounts, acquiring immovable properties in joint names or in the name of the woman, long term investments in business, shares in separate and joint names, so as to have a long standing relationship, may be a guiding factor.

(4) Domestic Arrangements

Entrusting the responsibility, especially on the woman to run the home, do the household activities like cleaning, cooking, maintaining or upkeeping the house, etc. is an indication of a relationship in the nature of marriage.

(5) Sexual Relationship

Marriage like relationship refers to sexual relationship, not just for pleasure, but for emotional and intimate relationship, for procreation of children, so as to give emotional support, companionship and also material affection, caring etc.

(6) Children

Having children is a strong indication of a relationship in the nature of marriage. Parties, therefore, intend to have a long standing relationship. Sharing the responsibility for bringing up and supporting them is also a strong indication.

(7) Socialization in Public

Holding out to the public and socializing with friends, relations and others, as if they are husband and wife is a strong circumstance to hold the relationship is in the nature of marriage.

(8) Intention and conduct of the parties

Common intention of parties as to what their relationship is to be and to involve, and as to their respective roles and responsibilities, primarily determines the nature of that relationship.”

Certain Women Cannot Claim Protection under Domestic Violence Act while in Live-In Relationship

If the woman enters into a live-in-relationship with the respondent knowing that he was married person, with wife and two children, then she cannot claim protection under DV Act.

If there has been alienation of affection created in the life of the respondent then the woman cannot claim protection under DV Act. If the woman has tried to alienate respondent from his family, resulting in loss of marital relationship, companionship, assistance, loss of consortium etc., so far as the legally wedded wife and children of the respondent are concerned, who resisted the relationship from the very inception then the woman cannot claim protection under DV Act. Marriage and family are social institutions of vital importance. Alienation of affection, in that context, is an intentional tort.

The law laid down by the Privy Council in Andrahennedige Dinohamy v. Wiketunge Liyanapatabendage Balshamy, AIR 1927 PC 185, that where a man and a woman are proved to have lived together as husband and wife, the law presumes that they are living together in consequence of a valid marriage will not apply when the relationship between the appellant and the respondent was not a relationship in the nature of a marriage, and the status of the appellant was that of a concubine. A concubine cannot maintain a relationship in the nature of marriage because such a relationship will not have exclusivity and will not be monogamous in character.

In Tulsa v. Durghatiya 2008 (4) SCC 520 it was held that presumption of marriage could be drawn under Section 114 of the Evidence Act. Section 114 of the Evidence Act refers to common course of natural events, human conduct and private business. The court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have occurred. Reading the provisions of Sections 50 and 114 of the Evidence Act together, it is clear that the act of marriage can be presumed from the common course of natural events and the conduct of parties as they are borne out by the facts of a particular case.

Where the partners lived together for long spell as husband and wife there would be presumption in favour of wedlock. However, the presumption was rebuttable, but a heavy burden lies on the person who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin to prove that no marriage took place. Law leans in favour of legitimacy and frowns upon bastardy.

Though, in Gokal Chand v. Parvin Kumari AIR 1952 SC 231 the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the continuous cohabitation of man and woman as husband and wife may raise the presumption of marriage, but the presumption which may be drawn from long cohabition is a rebuttable one and if there are circumstances which weaken and destroy that presumption, the Court cannot ignore them.

Polygamy, that is a relationship or practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time, or a relationship by way of a bigamous marriage that is marrying someone while already married to another and/or maintaining an adulterous relationship that is having voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person who is not one’s husband or wife, cannot be said to be a relationship in the nature of marriage.

However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indra Sarma v V.K.V Sarma Criminal Appeal No. 2009 of 2013 (SLP No. 4895 of 2012) held that:

“We may note, in the instant case, there is no necessity to rebut the presumption, since the appellant was aware that the respondent was a married person even before the commencement of their relationship, hence the status of the appellant is that of a concubine or a mistress, who cannot enter into relationship in the nature of a marriage. Long standing relationship as a concubine, though not a relationship in the nature of a marriage, of course, may at times, deserves protection because that woman might not be financially independent, but we are afraid that DV Act does not take care of such relationships which may perhaps call for an amendment of the definition of Section 2(f) of the DV Act, which is restrictive and exhaustive.”

Need for Reform to Extend Protection to Mistress and Concubine in Live-In Relationships

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Indra Sarma v V.K.V Sarma Criminal Appeal No. 2009 of 2013 (SLP No. 4895 of 2012) went on to note that:

“We cannot, however, lose sight of the fact that inequities do exist in such relationships and on breaking down such relationship, the woman invariably is the sufferer. Law of Constructive Trust developed as a means of recognizing the contributions, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary, perhaps comes to their aid in such situations, which may remain as a recourse for such a woman who find herself unfairly disadvantaged. Unfortunately, there is no express statutory provision to regulate such types of live-in relationships upon termination or disruption since those relationships are not in the nature of marriage. We can also come across situations where the parties entering into live-in-relationship and due to their joint efforts or otherwise acquiring properties, rearing children, etc. and disputes may also arise when one of the parties dies intestate.”

“Such relationship, it may be noted, may endure for a long time and can result pattern of dependency and vulnerability, and increasing number of such relationships, calls for adequate and effective protection, especially to the woman and children born out of that live-in-relationship. Legislature, of course, cannot promote pre-marital sex, though, at times, such relationships are intensively personal and people may express their opinion, for and against”

“Parliament has to ponder over these issues, bring in proper legislation or make a proper amendment of the Act, so that women and the children, born out of such kinds of relationships be protected, though those types of relationship might not be a relationship in the nature of a marriage.”

“We have, on facts, found that the appellant’s status was that of a mistress, who is in distress, a survivor of a live-in relationship which is of serious concern, especially when such persons are poor and illiterate, in the event of which vulnerability is more pronounced, which is a societal reality. Children born out of such relationship also suffer most which calls for bringing in remedial measures by the Parliament, through proper legislation.”

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