Legal aspects of live-in relationship in India
India is a country of culture, religions and traditions and at the same time a country which is developing fast and embracing the global changes faster. A country which is still enveloped in its century old beliefs, but at the same time the country which is ever evolving and ever accepting towards the new trends and culture. These strikingly different aspects of the nation have successfully divided the country in two parts.While one part is running ahead in time ready to embrace the change, the other part is still indulged in their century old beliefs and the differentiation of ideologies between these two divisions has created a myriad of conflicts which ought to be resolved sooner than later for the betterment of society. One of the most conflicted and argued upon topic has been “Live-in Relationship”. There has been a substantial increase in the number of couples living together without a union of marriage between them over the past few years. Live in relationship to be understood in simple terms is an arrangement between an unmarried couple to live together without the duties and obligations of a marital relationship. An increasing number of couples choose a live-in relationship, over marriage. In such situations, various economic, social and legal issues havearisen and continue to do so. It hence becomes extremely necessary to understand the legal position of such a relationship in India.
In S.P.S.Balasubramanyam v. Suruthaya, the Supreme Court held that if a man and woman cohabitating under the same room for a number of years, there will be a presumption of marriage under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act and the children born to them will be legitimate. The court has formed a presumption of marriage on the basis of Section 114 of the Evidence Act; the said section signifies the person upon whom the burden of proof regarding the sustainability of a fact that is being asserted is to be drawn. So, if the verdict of the court is to be accepted, if there is a long-term cohabitation between a man and a woman they will be presumed to be in a marital relationship. The conclusion drawn here israther absurd; to uphold a presumption of marriages in an arrangement which was in the first place made to avoid the presence of marital rights and duties is rather flawed.
In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, which can be considered to be a landmark judgement over the issue of live-in relationship, a bench headed by Justice KS Radhakrishnan said that the ambit of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, recognized an unmarried couple in its ambit, but did not consider live-in relationships in general. The court ruled that the Act provides protection to a woman in a live-in relationship in the “nature of marriage” and cannot be availed by a woman in an adulterous relationship. The court held that a woman living in a relationship which is in the “nature of marriage” can avail maintenance and other benefits. The court went ahead and recommended guidelines to decide if a relationship is in the “nature of marriage”, the bench listed 8 parameters; domestic arrangement, sexual relationship, children, conduct of the parties about their relationship, duration of relationship, pooling of resources, shared household, children and socialization in public. While the step taken by the apex court in the said judgement is surely laudable the court missed out on two very essential aspects of the said judgement. Firstly, the court excluded a woman in an adulterous relationship completely without taking into consideration whether the live-in relationship is by choice or by circumstance, the court has made no effort to apply the recommended guidelines in such a relationship and the court has definitely ruled out the possibility of any sort of protection under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 to a woman in such a relationship and hence making no effort to protect the interest of such a woman, what is even more revolting is that by ruling that live-in relationship does not cover relationship that are adulterous and hence are not in the “nature of marriage” the court has provided a loophole in the law of bigamy, a person may very well be in a live-in relationship outside marriage and not be subjected to punishment under the bigamy laws. Further, the court failed to take into consideration the “intention” of the parties. The court hence failed to take into consideration a relationship which might fulfil the said criteria of being a relationship “in the nature of marriage” but might not have any intention of being under the marital duty and obligation at the first place, hence it is completely unfair to confer upon the man any responsibility which was seemingly not part of the arrangement at the first place.
It is thereby imperative to say that a woman must be protected from domestic violence whether she is in an adulterous relationship, a live-in relationship or in a marital relationship but at the same time it is not logical to confer a presumption of marriage in a relationship which was an escape from such duties and obligations at the first place. Hence, it is necessary for the legislatures to bring the much necessary changes in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Also, now that the Supreme Court of the country has recognized the institution of live-in relationship formally it is necessary to make our legal conditions sustainable for such kind of relationships and hence it is necessary to legislate upon the issue of live-in relationship and provide logical and clear structure regarding the rights and duties of parties involved in such a relationship so as to not confuse such a relationship with marriage because the two are essentially different in nature and hence should be treated differently so as to protect the interest of both the parties in the relationship.