With time the society and human psychology has evolved and so has the definition of marriage. The generation next is handling the concept of marriage and relationship more liberally than ever. That’s why they are considering the concept of live-in relationship over the traditional concept of marriage. The live-in couples stay together just like any other married couples and the nature of live-in relationship is quite similar to marriage, deducting the legal obligations. This concept of relationship has been widely accepted by couples all over the world as well as in India. Although live-in relationship is still a taboo for the conservative Indian society and the legal status is not clear in this country, the Supreme Court has said that couples cohabiting for a long time will be considered as legally married and the partners in such relationships can be provided legal protection such as Domestic Violence Act 2005, just like any other married couple.
Legal Definition of Live-In Relationship:
There is no legal definition available for a live-in relationship. In simple terms it can be said that, in live-in relationship both partners live together in a shared household without being legally married to each other and thus avoiding the legal fuss involved. Since there is no legal obligations, any partner can decide to walk away as and when they want to.
Indian judiciary system does not have any clear rules to protect the rights of live-in couples. Just because there is no legal definition available for this kind of relationship, the legal status of this relationship is unsubstantiated as well. The concept of live-in relationship does not have any legal validation under the Hindu Succession Act, Islamic Law or the Christian Personal Law.
However, considering that there are instances of exploitation, the Supreme Court has stated in many of its judgements that if two matured adults of opposite genders have “lived like husband and wife” continuously for a long time and have babies together, they will be considered married unless proved otherwise and they will be protected by the laws applicable to any regular married couple. The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 deals with the maintenance in live-in relationship.
However, the validity of a live-in relationship is dependent on several factors and the court has to see if it is between two unmarried people, between a married man and unmarried woman, between married woman and unmarried man or between a married man and woman who have different spouses. All these relationships may be legally validated as live-in relationship depending on the particular facts of the case.
Legal Protection of Women and Children in Live-In Relationship:
- Since no religion approves live-in relationships and there is no particular law dedicated for the women cohabiting in a live-in relationship, the Supreme Court has granted maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code which provides legal right of maintenance to women in or out of a marriage.
- According to the Supreme Court, Section 2 (f) of the Domestic Violence Act can be enforced in order to protect women against physical, mental, verbal or economic abuses in case of a “relationship in nature of marriage”.
- Live-in couples are not allowed to adopt a child as per the Guidelines Governing the Adoption of Children as notified by the Central Adoption Resource Authority.
- The maintenance rights of children born out of wedlock differs in personal marriage laws. For example, according to the Hindu Law the father should maintain the child, but the Muslim Law frees the father from any such obligations. However, Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code protects the right of maintenance of the women in live-in relationship and the children born out of legal marriage.
Property Rights of Women and Children in Live-In Relationship:
Property rights of illegitimate children are protected under Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, where the legal status of legitimacy is provided even to illegitimate children with regards to inheritance. The rights of an illegitimate child in the self-acquired property of parents is already established. However, when it comes to ancestral property, the rights of an illegitimate child are debatable.
For example, in SPS Balasubramanyam vs Sruttayan AIR 1992 SC 756 the SC stated that: “If a man and woman are living under the same roof and cohabiting for a number of years, there will be presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, that they live as husband and wife and the children born to them will not be illegitimate.”
However, in the 2010 judgment in Madan Mohan Singh vs. Rajni Kant (2010) 9 SCC 209, it was held that a childborn from a live-in relationship will not be treated as illegitimate if the parents lived under one roof and co-habited for a considerably long time for society to recognise them as husband and wife.
However, when it comes to ancestral property, Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar said: “In view of the legal fiction contained in Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (legitimacy of children of void and voidable marriages), the illegitimate children, for all practical purposes, including succession to the properties of their parents, have to be treated as legitimate. They cannot, however, succeed to the properties of any other relation on the basis of this rule, which in its operation, is limited to the properties of the parents.”
This has again been contradicted in a recent Supreme Court court decision in Revanasiddappa vs Mallikarjun 2011 (86 ) ALR 450 it was held that “Child born in illegitimate relationship/Void marriage is innocent and is entitled to all rights to property to which his parents are entitled whether ancestral or self-acquired property.” A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, hearing an appeal by Revanasiddappa, differed with earlier judgments in interpreting Section 16 (3) of the HMA that “such children are only entitled to the property of their parents and not of any other relation.”
This question of property inheritance rights of children born out of live-in relationships will depend on the nature of the relationship and duration of the same. Further, it is for the Supreme Court to give clarity about whether such children will acquire rights in ancestral property too.