With the advent of globalization and modernization,Indian society has undergone innumerable drastic changes. People’s traditions, values, cultures, and beliefs have evolved to be more accepting and open-minded, even when it comes to the contentiously debated topic of live-in relationships. These days, many young couples are choosing to have live-in relationships. These relationships have almost emerged as declarations of independence from the ‘shackles’ of marriage. But while they have become common in some cities, they’re still considered immoral or improper in most parts of India.

Though our country lacks separate legislation that defines the legal status of live-in relationships, there have been several cases over the years in which the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of such relationships. In order to understand the legal status of live-in relationships in India, we’ll take a look at some of these cases.

In 1950, the Supreme Court of India in Gokal Chand v. Parvin Kumari[1] stated that continuous cohabitation of a woman and man as wife and husband, and their treatment as such for a number of years may raise the presumption of marriage.[2]

Later in 1978, in the case of Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation[3] the marriage of a man and woman who had lived for 50 years as husband and wife, but had no ceremonial process or other evidence to prove the legitimacy of their marriage, came into question. The court observed that if a man and woman have lived as husband and wife for a long time, a strong presumption arises in the favor of a conjugal bond.[4]

The same was held in the case of Tulsa & Ors. v. Durghatiya & Ors[5]. It was held that there is a presumption of valid marriage if the couple had continuously lived together for a long spell of time.[6]

Now, there have also been cases in which the court refused to recognize live-in relationships as legally valid. For example, in Malti v. State of U.P[7], it was observed that just the fact that a man and a woman have been living together for a period of time, doesn’t imply that they are husband and wife. In this case, the woman was staying in the man’s house as his cook and they had developed an intimate relationship.  The Court refused to broaden the meaning of the word ‘wife’ as it’s denoted in Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to include such a live-in partner.

In D.Velusamy vs. D.Patchaiammal[8], 2010, the expression “relationship in the nature of marriage” was introduced to refer to live-in relationships. Four conditions were laid down that would be required for such relationships to be considered valid:

  1. The couple must present themselves to society as spouses.
  2. They must not be minors.
  3. They must be unmarried, and otherwise qualified to be legally married.
  4. The couple must have a common household they voluntarily shared and presented themselves similar to spouses to the world for a significant spell of time.

The court’s stance on the issue of infidelity and live-in relationships was made clear in Alok Kumar v. State & Anr. (2010), in which it was held that live-in relationships were walk-in and walk-out relationships. They don’t come with strings attached, and the parties aren’t legally bound to be faithful to each other.[9] Thus, live-in relationships can be terminated by either of the parties without the consent of the other party, and people who chose to have live-in relationships cannot complain of immorality or infidelity later.

Now that we have looked at the legal status of live-in relationships, I would like to discuss the social perspective of this issue. Many in India view the newfound acceptance of live-relationships as an attack on the sacrosanctity of marriage. They think it symbolizes the lack of respect the newer generations have for sacred institutions and practices. It’s important to understand that the significance of marriage as a social institution has never been in question. Still, not everyone has the same views on relationships but they have the right to live according to their preferences and values. The Supreme Court has, in the cases discussed below, reiterated this point.

In S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Another[10], the court observed that a girl who’s above 18 can live with or marry anyone she likes. Ideas of morality are subjective in nature and the law cannot unreasonably interfere with the personal freedom of individuals.[11] The court said that living together comes under the right to life which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and thus, is not illegal.

This was reiterated in the case of Payal Sharma v. Superintendent, Nari Niketan and others[12],  when the court observed that a man and a woman can live together even without getting married. Although our society doesn’t view pre-marital sex as moral, adults engaging in consensual sex outside of marriage aren’t committing any statutory offense (with the exception of adultery).[13]

In Indra Sarma vs V.K.V.Sarma[14], the court stated that live-in relationships aren’t crimes. People’s choices regarding their relationships are personal. They mustn’t be unfairly regulated. Thereafter, the Court observed that two people who are living together without a formal marriage are not criminal offenders, in this case.

In conclusion, India is changing at a pace that is almost unimaginable. Western cultures like live-in relationships are seeping into our social norms and the law must evolve with this changing social scenario as well. Although courts through various cases and judgments have tried to get a better understanding of the status of live-in relationships, the laws dealing with these relationships are still not clear, leaving many questions unanswered. There is a need for proper legislation that lays down the ambit of live-in relationships clearly.

[1] 1952 AIR 231

[2] Rajendra Anbhule, Aggrieved Women and Live-in Relationships: Judicial Discourse, (2013) <http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/0F9385C7-DDF2-41EB-A7DB-FA111C39BFD8.pdf>

[3] 1978 AIR 1557

[4]Badri Prasad vs Dy. Director Of Consolidation And … on 1 August, 1978. Indiankanoon.org. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/215649/. Published 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.

[5] AIR 1978 SC 1557

[6]Tulsa & Ors vs Durghatiya & Ors on 15 January, 2008. Indiankanoon.org. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/988131/. Published 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.

[7] 2000 CriLJ 4170

[8] 10 SCC 469

[9] Alok Kumar vs State & Anr. on 9 August, 2010. Indiankanoon.org. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/79779528/. Published 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.

[10] AIR 2010 SC 3196

[11] S. Khushboo vs Kanniammal & Anr on 28 April, 2010. Indiankanoon.org. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1327342/. Published 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.

[12] AIR 2001 All. 254

[13] Payal Sharma alias Kamla Sharma vs. Superintendent, Nari Niketan, Agra and others (17.05.2001 – ALLHC). Lawskills.in. https://www.lawskills.in/FreeRes/judgments/MANUUP02882001.htm. Published 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.

[14] (2013) 15 SCC 755

Ria Goyal

MNLU, Mumbai

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