In this ever-changing world, gone are the days when marriage was considered to be a sacred bond vital for a sexual relationship between two heterogeneous beings. Today, with the complexities of life, profession, and relationships, people no longer give preference to the age-old norms of marriage over their freedom to accommodate a happy relationship within their busy schedules by simply living in together. Moreover, the hassles of divorce in India under the personal religious laws and the social stigma attached to divorces are a big reason why couples do not want to marry early or to commit to a relationship for the lifetime. People tend to value their independence and freedom more than cultural norms which seem out of place in today’s world. The concept of a family is also changing rapidly and is no longer viewed as being limited to a husband-wife relationship.
Nevertheless, even today, the reality of such relationships in India is confined to the metropolitan cities where it is easier to live an anonymous life. The societies still look down upon such relationships so much so that its tough for a live-in couple to get a flat worth living. In the absence of any legal bond tying the two parties, the Courts often face questions regarding the nature of rights emanating from such relationships. While the legislature is yet to draft a policy for regulating and protecting the rights of a partner in such relationships, the Courts have often taken a stand supportive of such relationships and the lady partners. In many cases, the Court has even put a live-in relationship on the same pedestal as a marriage.
In this article, let us look at some of the important legal implications of being in a live-in relationship in India
- Homosexuality and Live-Ins
Even though it is completely legal for two heterogeneous adults to live together under the same roof and have a sexual relationship, the status of homosexual live-in relationships is still a grey area in India as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which prohibits any form of unnatural sexual activity (any activity that does not lead to procreation) is still on the statute-books. Though, a recent 2017 verdict on right to privacy has recognized sexual orientation as an essential attribute of privacy and condemned discrimination on this basis. It is still to see, how India turns this page on the rights of the LGBT community in future.
- Not all Live-Ins are in the Nature of Marriage
The Supreme Court in a 2010 judgment has enunciated upon the live-ins that can be termed as “relationships in the nature of marriage.” For the purpose of availing economic and other benefits under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 the couple should be living together under the same roof for a significant period of time and should be projecting themselves as akin to spouses to the outside world. Spending weekends together or one-night stands are thus excluded from the purview of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Also, if a man financially keeps a woman for a sexual purpose or as a servant, then such relationships would not be in the nature of marriage.
- Can Women claim maintenance from there live-in partners?
Women may claim maintenance under the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Though Section 125 of CrPC which is primarily used for maintenance claims by women of all religions uses the term “wife” (including divorced wife), some Courts have read the term wife expansively to include long-term live in partners that live as husband and wife. Such interpretation is in line with the essence of the beneficial provision of maintenance enshrined in Section 125 of CrPC. Some committees have also suggested amendments to this provision to give it a clear interpretation benefiting live-in female partners.
- What about the rights of the children born out of live-in relationships?
The Court in several instances has held that children born out of long-term live-in relationships are legitimate and thus have the right to inheritance just like children born in a marriage. Even otherwise, in Hindu law unlike in Muslim law, as far as the inheritance rights of children are concerned, even the children born out of marriage are considered to be legitimate. Thus, children born out of live-ins may claim inheritance in both personal and ancestral properties of their parents.
These children may also claim maintenance rights under Section 125 of CrPC and even under Article 32 as not being maintained by one’s parents is a violation of the right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.
Despite the recognition of the rights of live-in partners by the Courts in India, people living in live-in are often not able to avail the same benefits of living together as a married couple does. They also suffer because of the standard format of documentation that is used in all areas of life. Theoretically being granted rights is often of no use to them since the procedural hassles of availing these rights, for example, the inheritance and maintenance rights of children are often much more complicated. Thus, the Government should come up with a comprehensive legislation that specifically addresses the various facets of a live-in relationship.
Author: Monisha Purwar
- Homosexuality and Live-Ins