– By Tanya Aggarwal, 3rd Year, Amity Law School. Noida
A live-in relationship is legally defined as – “an arrangement of living under which an unmarried couple lives together to conduct a long-going relationship similar to a marriage”. This concept is mainly recognised as a socially unacceptable one in India but has legal support and is not punishable under the eyes of the law of the country.
This is an arrangement in which two unmarried people tend to agree to live together on a long-term or lasting basis in an emotionally and/or sexually intimate relationship. It is an informal arrangement between intended parties. This arrangement of relationships does not push the typical responsibilities of married life on the individuals living together. People commonly choose to come in such consensual arrangements either to test compatibility before marriage; or if they are unable to legally marry; or simply, because it does not involve the responsibilities of a formal marriage. It may also be that, couples see no benefit offered by the institution of marriage or that their economic situation prevents them from being married on account of marriage expenditures. Whatever be the reason, even in a traditional society where the institution of marriage is sacred, an increasing number of couples choose a live-in relationship, sometimes even as a permanent arrangement over marriage. Economic liberalization, structural changes, and changes in social spheres are in the process of transforming households and families in India. The creation of new economic opportunities for women and men both have meant that more young generations have become economically independent and less reliant on parents. With this change, the change in relationships like that of family and marriage has typically changed. People often move to urban areas and find partners on their own and are less dependent on their families for their marriages these days.
Education and Globalization in Promoting Live-in Relationships
Culture and ideas know no geographical limits and there should be no room for narrow thinking. Liberalization in the economy opened gates for globalization where many multinational companies came to India. Western corporations bought western lifestyles, values, and cultures. The world shrunk into a global village. The fascination for materialistic culture in the young generations denominated the cultural scenario of the civilized world. People got more aware of western concepts, like trends of living together without getting married and having children out of romantic relationships. Living together did not require any formal commitments, it is just sharing the same house and beds like roommates and fulfillment of physical and psychological needs. If one person even has a problem or boredom in the relationship, they can simply move out without any legal hassle.
Women becoming more educated came at par with the suppression by the male gender in almost every area. Awareness of rights and economic independence aided acceptance of live-in relationships as it provides the edge of not being bound by societal responsibilities.
Social and Legal Perception on Live-in-Relationships
When this perception has been started to be accepted by the new generation of Indian society, then it demands its meaning in the eyes of law. Different High Courts of the country and the Hon’ble Supreme Court in several decisions have tried to enlighten the concept of live-in relationships. Hence in India, the concept of live-in relationship is explained in the form of court verdicts which varies from case to case depending based on issues before the court ‘Live-in Relationship’ as defined in Alok Kumar v. State: “Live-in relationship is a walk-in and walk-out relationship where neither any strings are attached, nor does it create 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.”
Although, a live-in relationship is that which has not been socially accepted in India, unlike many other countries and there are varied societal opinions on the growing trend of ‘live-in relationship. Live-in- relation between two adults without a formal marriage cannot be defined as an offense and there is no such statute that theorizes that live-in relationships are illegal. So, such as the societal responses are in India on issues like pre-marital relations. However, courts have ruled that living together before marriage and having a physically intimate relationship are not illegal though immoral and hence no offense is committed. Recently, on 18 May 2021, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, where Justice Mittal stated that our Constitution has given us the fundamental right of freedom and liberty, and hence stopping someone from choosing their partner is accepted by the law. He, therefore, ruled out that, personal views must be kept aside and the law must prevail which gives equal treatment to all.
Ancient Indian society had a rich culture of traditions and moral values and so Indian people consider the concept of living together before marriage as a moral wrong. In the cases, before independence like A. Dinohamy v. W.L. Blahamy, the privy council laid down a broad rule postulating that “Where a man and women are proved to have lived together as a man and wife, the law will presume, unless the contrary be proved, that they were living together in consequence of a valid marriage and not in a state of concubinage”
Provisions for Women in Live-in-Relationships for Domestic Violence
Things have changed after the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA). The provisions of the Act also extend to women living in a relationship like marriage and by doing so, even though in a divided manner, the legislature has finally undertaken to accept the contemporary global phenomena appreciated and attempted by some persons among the new generation.
PWDVA, 2005 provides us with the definitions of an ‘Aggrieved person’ and the meaning of a ‘Domestic Relationship. Thus, Parliament by the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act has shaped a difference between the ‘relationship of marriage’ and a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’, and has provided to us that in either of the cases the person who enters into either relationship is entitled to the benefit of the Act.
In D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal the Supreme Court considered the definition of ‘aggrieved person’ and ‘domestic relationship’ together and opined that the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ that is included within the definition of ‘domestic relationship’ has not clearly been defined in the Act, hence, an authoritative decision is required to be taken to clarify what is and what is not a relationship in the nature of marriage. The Supreme Court commented during its judgment that the Indian Parliament while establishing the two distinct categories viz. ‘relationship of marriage’ and ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ intended that the enactment should protect and benefit women in both these relationships. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the relationship in the nature of marriage is similar to a Common Law Marriage. Thus, the judgment measured the essentials of common-law marriage and stated that not all ‘live-in relationships’ will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage’. Velusamy case accepts a common-law marriage to be the same as a live-in relationship to constitute a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’.
Though, the case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V Sarma provided an insight into the aspects which would bring live-in relationships under the definition of ‘relationships in the nature of marriage’. Apex Court ruled that only ‘relationship in nature of marriage’ is protected under the definition of domestic relationship, and women under relationship not in nature of marriage are not entitled to reliefs which have been provided under the PWDVA, 2005. To make a ‘live-in’ legal i.e. a ‘relationship in nature of marriage’ the Supreme Court said that the couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses; they must be of authorized age to marry; they must be otherwise capable to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried; and they must voluntarily live together for a significant period. Trying to iron out certain unclear situations, the judges also said that if it is not so, it would not be a relationship ‘in the nature of marriage’. Thus, it can be extracted from these judgments that Indian courts have distinguished between live-in couples and hence it becomes difficult to say that live-in relationship is granted legality by the judiciary in India. Couples who fulfil the principles of a valid marriage are treated as in a ‘relationship in nature of marriage’ and thus dealt in a different way from ‘relationship not in nature of marriage’ i.e. those who don’t fulfill the conditions of a valid marriage.
Therefore, with the changing society, modern and western concepts like live-in relationships have to be accepted in society. The laws in India do not consider these cohabitations as an offense. Though, it has to be understood that a major change is occurring as westernization is hindering the cultural values of India where marriage used to be a sacrament, especially for Hindus. Choosing a partner of choice is still a dream of many; ‘adjustment’ looks better in metro railways to offer a seat to someone in need, but not in marriages; hence, live-in relationships ease many aspects of marrying where people can decide if things would work out for them before they are stuck with the wrong person forever. As much as divorce is a no-go in India because of Hindu marriage’s sanctity, live-in relationships can prove to be a better choice so that the right person can be chosen. Of course, everything has its pros and cons and if these relationships diminish the idea of marriages forever for the youth then it will be a loss of our rich culture which we had preserved from the last many centuries.