Legal status of live-in relationship in India

By | May 31, 2021

The legal status of live-in relationship in India is intact and valid as has been recognised by the judiciary in its various judgements, but to some extent, still lacks social acceptance and continues to be taboo.

Introduction

Law and society are the two faces of the same coin. One needs the other, with the changing society law cannot afford to remain static. From time immemorial, the law has been playing a significant role in changing society through its rules and regulations. It is very clear from the history of the development of Hindu law that the law was never static and has changed from time to time with the changing social pattern of society.

The  Indian society has witnessed a drastic change in its social pattern in the last few years, with the fast-changing world the Indians are gradually opening the doors of western culture towards the ideas of pre-marital sex and live-in relationships. In India there is no specific legislation or rules for regulating the matter of live-in relationship. The supreme court through its various judgements issued certain guidelines for the purpose of dealing with such relationships in India.

Meaning of Live-in-relationship

There is no legal definition of the term live-in relationship. A live-in relationship is: “An arrangement of living under which the couples which are unmarried life together to conduct a long-going relationship similarly as in marriage.” [1]

Live-in-relationship is purely an arrangement between parties; once a party to a live-in-relationship determines that he/she does not wish to live in such a relationship, that relationship comes to an end. Hence, it is called a walk-in and walk-out relationship. Live-in-relationship is neither crime nor a sin; though it is unacceptable to a certain extent in Indian society. In a country like India, where marriages are considered as a social foundation to legalise the relationship between a man and woman; the concept of live-in-relationship has set up a new dimension in the arena of men-women relationship.[2]

Legal status of live-in relationship in India

The supreme court and various high courts have given numerous decisions on live-in-relationship. The Supreme Court in, Badri Prasad v. Director of Consolidation [3] gave legal validity to a 50-year live-in relationship.  

The court observed,

 If man and woman who live as husband and wife in society are compelled to prove, after half a century of wedlock by eye-witness evidence that they were validly married fifty years earlier, few will succeed. ` A strong presumption arises in favour of wedlock where the partners have lived together for a long spell as husband and wife. Although the presumption is rebuttable, a heavy burden lies on him who seeks to deprive the relationship of its legal origin. Law leans in favour of legitimacy and frowns upon bastardy. 

In Payal Sharma v. Superintendent, Nari Niketan[4] the Allahabad High Court opined that “a man and a woman, even without getting married can live together if they wish. This may be regarded immoral by society but it is not illegal. There is a difference between law and morality.” 

Live-in relationship between consenting adults is not considered illegal under Indian law. In 2006, in the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P[5], it was held that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of the opposite sex, though perceived as immoral, does not amount to any offence under the law

In S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal, [6] the Supreme Court held that a living relationship comes within the ambit of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court further held that live-in relationships are permissible and the act of two major living together cannot be considered illegal or unlawful. [7]

In  Alok Kumar v. State and Another, [8] the Delhi high court observed,

Live-in relationship’ is a walk-in and walk-out relationship. There are no strings attached to this relationship, neither this relationship creates any legal bond between the parties. It is a contract of living together which is renewed every day by the parties and can be terminated by either of the parties without the consent of the other party and one party can walk out at will at any time. Thus, people who chose to have a ‘live-in relationship’ cannot complain of infidelity or immorality as live-in relationships are also known to have been between a married man and unmarried woman or between a married woman and an unmarried man”.[9]

In D.Velusamy v. D.Patchaiammal [10] the Supreme Court opined that ‘relationship in the nature of marriage is akin to a Common Law Marriage. Common Law Marriage requires that although not being formally married:-

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

Hence, the Court concluded that a live-in relationship outside the scope of Common Law Marriage will not amount to a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’. [11]

In Dhannulal v. Ganeshram, [12] the Supreme Court has ruled that an unmarried couple living together under the same roof are now going to be presumed married, and the woman would be eligible to inherit any legal property after the death of her partner.

The bench reportedly said, “It is well settled that the law presumes in favour of marriage and against concubinage when a man and woman have cohabited continuously for a long time. However, the presumption can be rebutted by leading unimpeachable evidence. A heavy burden lies on a party who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin.” 

The supreme court in, Shakthi Vahini v. Union of India and others,[13] held that “assertion of choice is an Insegregable facet of liberty and dignity”, that is why the French philosopher and thinker Simone Weil has said, ‘ liberty, taking the word in its concrete sense consists in the ability to choose.

In Nandakumar and another v. The state of Kerala, [14]  Justice A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan have emphasised that a live-in relationship is recognised by the Legislature itself which has found its place under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Recently, in Ujjwal and Another v. State of Haryana and Others, [15] the Punjab and Haryana High Court refused to grant protection to a live-in couple who allegedly faced threats from the girl’s family since their elopement while noting that “if such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed.’”

Further, the Court opined, “If such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed. Hence, no ground to grant the protection is made out.”

And the days after this judgement, the Punjab and Haryana high court in Soniya and Another v. State of Haryana and Others,[16] observed that “the concept of live-in relationship may not be acceptable to all, but it cannot be said that such a relationship is an illegal one or that living together without the sanctity of marriage constitutes an offence”. 

The court further observed that “It would be a travesty of justice in case protection is denied to persons who have opted to reside together without the sanctity of marriage, and such persons have to face dire consequences at the hands of persons from whom protection is sought. In case such a course is adopted and protection denied, the courts would also be failing in their duty to provide its citizens a right to their life and liberty as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and to uphold to the Rule of law”,

Conclusion

A live-in relationship though recognised by the judiciary in its various judgements, but to some extent, still lacks social acceptance and continues to be taboo.

It is a choice of a person that should be free from societal pressure. One may believe in the idea of holy matrimony but at the same time, one should not be criticised for his/her decision to consider a live-in relationship. So in order to protect the rights and interests of the persons arising out of such a relationship proper legislative enactments are necessary.

It is relevant in this context to say that ,

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness”.

                                                                                   Friedrich Nietzsche


  1. http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1013/Emerging-Concept-of-Live-in-Relationships.html , last cited on 20-05-2021
  2. https://tripakshalitigation.com/legality-of-live-in-relationship-in-india/, last cited on 20-05-2021 
  3. 1978 AIR 1557, 1979 SCR (1) 
  4. AIR 2001 All 254
  5. (2006) 5 SCC 475
  6. (2010) 5 SCC 600 
  7. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2631831820974585 ,last cited on 21-05-2021
  8. 2010 SCC OnLine Del 2645
  9. https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/79779528/?formInput=alok%20kumar%20v.%20state , last cited on 21-05-2021
  10. AIR 2011 SC 479
  11. https://legalresearchandanalysis.com/blog/live-in-relationship , last cited on 21-05-2022 
  12. (2015) 12 SCC 301
  13. (2018) 7 SCC 192
  14. (2018 ) SCC OnLine SC 492 , available at  https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2018/05/07/20-year-old-woman-free-to-live-with-underage-husband-couple-has-the-right-to-live-together-even-outside-wedlock-sc/ , last cited on 22-05-2021
  15. CRWP-4268 of 2021 (O&M) , available at https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/entire-social-fabric-of-society-would-get-disturbed-ph-high-court-refuses-to-grant-protection-to-a-live-in-couple-174131 , last cited on 22-05-2021
  16. CRWP-4533 of 2021 (O&M) , available at  https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/live-in-relationship-may-not- , last cited on 22 -05- 2021 

Other websites 

  1. https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/historic-supreme-court-approves-live-in-relationships-asks-par-30912.html ,last cited on 21-05-2021 
  2. https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2016/12/22/live-in-partners-not-entitled-to-protection-if-one-of-the-partner-has-a-subsisting-marriage/ , last cited on 21-05-2021 
  3. https://www.lawskills.in/FreeRes/judgments/MANUUP02882001.htm , last cited 0n 22-05-2021
  4. https://www.lexsyndicate.com/post/status-of-live-in-relationship-in-indian-society last cited on 22-05-2021 
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/love-sex/marriage-vs-live-in-relationship-two-different-approaches-to-exploring-love-and-companionship/articleshow/71582056.cms last cited on 22-05-2021 

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