Live in Relationships: Changing Dimensions of the Institution of Marriage

By | March 23, 2021
Live in Relationship

Live in Relationships | Overview

I. Introduction

The dichotomy of a live in relationship is a very debatable topic, especially after various judgments of the Apex Court in its favour. The courts held this form of a relationship to be legal and not to be labelled as an offense. Beliefs such as marriage and custom of the Indian traditions are deep-rooted in the society and deviance from it causes raucous.

Marriage is considered to be a sacred union, which is legalized as well as highly respected in society. But, with the influence of the West, a certain population seems to adopt the Western culture i.e. the trend of live-in relationships. The judiciary has played a crucial role as a watchdog to facilitate the tradition of live-in, breaking the orthodoxies of society. It is high time that people stop considering live-in relationships as taboo and accept them with their own pros and characteristics.

II. Nature Of Marriage, Live-In Relationship, And Its Problems

In modern times, things are changing at a fast pace. Globalization has brought the whole world closer and customs or systems followed by one part of the world are spread through media to other parts and people start following these customs, though it may be totally different system in their own country. In our country particularly, western culture has started affecting social customs.

The youth of our nation are being affected by the lifestyle of west-side countries, gradually renouncing the basic family traditions. For example, another feature of live-in relation has started making inroads in our society. It has started replacing, though not completely, the very sacred relationship called marriage.

Marriage is a legally binding union and entitles maintenance to wife, and children as legal heir. To avoid the obligation of providing the maintenance to the wife and legal right to the children taking birth due to such marriages, the couples tend to resort to living in live-in relationships. They want to live freely and do not want to have any burden of responsibility on their shoulder. In this type of arrangement, two individuals decide to live together in an unmarried way, for long, in a manner that shows proximity to a marriage, but without any legal obligation of marriage. Through this kind of relationship, the couples evade the responsibilities of marriage.

The view of the judiciary has been such that if a couple is residing together for long, they will be presumed to be married legally. In simpler terms, live-in can be understood as two individuals living together to enjoy the benefits of staying together like a married couple. In this type of arrangement, there is no responsibility and obligation but it does not have any legal binding. It is not even defined in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. But in some of the recent cases law has given security to the affected parties.

The Law Commission along with the Malimath Committee (2003)[1] has been instrumental in suggesting that a woman should benefit from the legal status that is provided to the wife if she is residing in a live-in for long. But still, there is a need to have some regulation on this as the Court does not frame rules. The Apex Court has given several decisions favoring live-in relationships.

In one of its cases[2], the Apex Court mentioned that there needs to be compliance with certain conditions for claiming palimony. The conditions mentioned are that the individuals residing together must resemble themselves as a couple being equivalent to spouses; both of them must have reached the legal age of marriage; both of them must be eligible to enter into the contract of marriage; there must be voluntary cohabitation for a considerable time period.

In the present times, many changes have occurred in the institution of marriage. No other forms of marriage were acceptable to society other than arranged marriages. As time passes, there has been a shift in the perception of society. The other form of marriage like love marriage became acceptable to society. This was all effect of western culture. Now again one more arrangement to live like husband and wife, which is called a Live-in relationship, is becoming popular among the new generation. This change is affecting the social structure of society. Many legal issues are taking place due to this new trend.

But the main issues that crop up are whether the societal setup will readily accept this type of relationship and what will be the repercussions of accepting such type of relationship. Should existing Laws relating to marriage be amended or new laws are to be framed to regulate relationships like these? The judiciary has not been that consistent when it comes to recognizing such relationships. But when the protection of interests of women is taken into consideration, the judiciary has been sensitive and instrumental in delivering justice to the affected women.

Presently there is no single law to deal directly with regards to live-in in India. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, grants legal status to children born out of a ‘voidable’ or a ‘void’ marriage. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 Act[3] does provide security to the women who face atrocities in a ‘relationship in the character of marriage’. An “aggrieved person” covered under this act is “any woman who is living or lived with a man and who is subjected to any atrocities in terms of violence by the man.”

Using the idea of “relations in the nature of marriage”, the scope of recognizing a live-in relationship has widened by this Act. It does recognize such relationships along with protecting the interests of women in these relationships.

Judiciary in India does not have a strong stance on accepting or rejecting the idea of live-in but it does ensure to provide justice in every case to the aggrieved. The judiciary’s main concern is that justice is delivered and determining the cases keeping in view social and constitutional aspects. The High Court of Allahabad in a noted case [4], opined that a woman who is  21 years old, being a major has every right to movement and choice and she can reside with any individual without getting married if she wishes to.

It was opined by the Apex Court in another case that a mutual cohabitation between two individuals for a considerable amount of time will be taken to be at par with marriage and the child as a product of such a relationship will be a legitimate child. The Supreme Court was also of the view that for some to claim maintenance from Sec. 125 Cr.PC., marriage is not a pre-requisite to claim maintenance. The partner in a live-in was attributed to the status of a wife in the case of Chellamma v. Tillamma[5].

The bench held that it is not illegal for a couple to cohabit without being married. Even the children born out of this kind of relationship will be legitimate. On the contrary, the Delhi High Court in the case of in Alok Kumar v. State of Delhi[6], held that the character of a live-in relationship is more of a walk-in walk-out relationship where there are no strings attached and an individual does not get the right to compliant for the infidelity of their partner.

But Courts do not have the power to amend or legislate the law. In the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWFDVA), Parliament has recognized a novel trend emerging in India known as live-in but has opted to replace the term ‘live-in relationship’ with the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’. Sadly, the expression in the character of marriage has not been listed in the Act (PWDVA, 2005).

IV. Emerging Contemporary Concepts Across The World

The institution of marriage has seen a constant evolution since its inception. Pair-bonding began in the Stone Age as a method to organize and regulate the sexual conduct of individuals and for establishing a stable and safe institution for child-rearing. With time, this concept has taken shape into various forms in distinct cultures. The option of living together before marriage is becoming a fad. Cohabiting together, ma1qintaining a sexual relationship without getting married, is also on the rise among people.

People choose to live together so that they get to know each other by spending time and saving the living cost. Quite of them view this as a “trial run” for marriage. But the success of a marriage is not little dependent on two people living together. It is observed that the rates of remaining married are higher for the people who do not reside together prior to their marriage. Cohabitation can also be a factor in the rise of people delaying marriages. Hence, the average age to marry is increasing steadily.

Cohabitation has increased during the last many years. The following are some recent trends prevalent for cohabitation:

  • The number of individuals opting for marriages is reducing.
  • The majority of the couple want to test the bond by cohabiting together before marriage.
  • The notion of premarital sex is not a distant concept.

Marriage rates are decreasing and it does pose problems for the stability of the society. The benefit of enjoying the benefits of marriage without tangling themselves in the duties and obligations of marriage seems very attractive and lucrative to the youth.

The patterns specific to marriage and family are becoming varied in the present times. Taking a closer look at this drift, one can observe a shift from a joint family to a nuclear family, from a nuclear family to a live-in relationship, and what more live-in-relationship to just lovers.[7]

The constant need for the contemporary lifestyle has made single-parent families common. The main reason behind the development of this trend is the instability in marriage and high divorce rates. Now, many developing and developed nations are accepting this trend. Trends also show the rise in teenage marriages in Western countries and pregnancy at the time of marriage makes itself a by-product.

Contrary to the trend of the lowering of the marriage age, the age for marriage in India, Arab countries, and some Sub-Saharan countries has been rising gradually. Due to the ease of moving into a live-in relationship, the age of marriage has been increasing in metro cities.

In today’s world, people tend to procrastinate the thought of marriage and opt for living single so that they can pursue their careers and education is becoming common. People also tend to live unmarried throughout their lives. The reason behind this is the financial stability and independence of the youth.

These trends are because of new social changes. A couple staying away from the families for a job in the country or out of the country are prone to such relationships. They stay in a live-in relationship and enjoy personal and financial freedom. This concept has resulted in many practices like delaying the marriage and if not satisfied with the relationship then they can leave any time. As in India, there is no law for this, the Supreme Court has given some decisions and some relief to the affected parties. The Maharashtra government had taken a step to legalize live-in-relationship to protect women from cheating and harassment by the male partner which was later aborted.[8]

V. Conclusion Or … Beginning

Marriage is a sacred social institution in India. However, there are certain individuals who don’t abide by the same view and do not mind trying a new concept like live-in. Today Live-in relationship is not a taboo in our society to that extent as it was before, and is being accepted and increasingly followed by people. Society is changing and the law has played a crucial role in defining change in society.

Society and law are instrumental in regulating one’s conduct. As mentioned in the preceding chapters, there is a change in the perception of the society about living patterns, and the law is also responding to the changing trends in the society and delivering the judgments in view of the changed scenario.


[1] Justice V.S. Malimath Committee Report, Available Here, pp. 181-194.

[2] D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal, A.I.R. 2011 SC 479 (India).

[3] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, No. 43, Acts of Parliament, 2005 (India).

[4] Payal Katara v. Superintendent Nari Niketan Kandri Vihar, A.I.R. 2001 All 254 (India).

[5] Chellamma v. Tillamma, A.I.R. 2009 SC 112 (India).

[6] Alok Kumar v. State of Delhi, Crl. M.C. No. 299/2009 (India).

[7] Puja Mondal, Emerging Patterns of Marriage and Family, Your Article Library, Available Here

[8]  Anuja Agarwal,  Law and Live in Relationships in India, Economic & Political Weekly, (Sept 29, 2012).


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