When two consenting adults choose to stay together for a long time as a married couple without the formal sacrament of marriage are said to be in a Live-in relationship. The prevalence of such a way of cohabitation is increasing in Indian society due to various factors namely fast-paced urban life, complex and time taking process of divorce, weakening of the family structure, and other contemporary issues. The instant coffee generation is trying to carve out such social arrangements which provide them with maximum benefits with the least responsibilities. A live-in relationship seems to provide a win-win situation for both the parties entering into it.
The Indian society has always been proud of, its family values and the institution of marriage, and this gradual acceptance of live-in relationships is viewed as contempt and sneers by the laggard social mindset. The fragile arguments of the supporters of live-in relationships can barely shield themselves behind the traditions of “GandharvaVivah” of the Hindu Smritis and “Maître Karar” prevalent in the state of Gujarat and “Nata Pratha” of Rajasthan and M.P.
Over the years the judiciary has tried to remove gross violations of human rights in live-in relationships and in the process given limited legitimacy to this social arrangement which is still socially unacceptable. This limited legal coverage can be derived from judicial pronouncements but society is still ill at terms with this new concept.
The Legal Aspect of Live-in Relationship
A live-in relationship is not expressly recognized under any legal provision in India. As India does not have a uniform civil code, the institution of marriage in India is still governed by different religious codes. A live-in relationship, being an arrangement, which mimics marriage but enjoys no legal sanction in India means a social arrangement where no marriage takes place between a couple.
As no legal status arises out of such association thus, no legal protection can be given to any affected party under any specific law. The Apex Court and various High Courts have time and again given partial protection to the harassed, under human rights and other rights available to the citizens of India for example, Protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred as PWDVA/Act) and right to live enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The liberty and the right to live and the “way to live” are also protected and ensured by the Constitution under Article 21. It means that though no legal status is granted to couples in a live-in arrangement, however, such a relationship is not illegal per se.
Section 2 (f) of the PWDVA protects the women in live-in relationships against domestic abuse as well. Section 2 (a) of the Act defines the aggrieved person who can seek protection under the Act. This reform has been brought to protect the women in live-in relationships provided them with legal protection. In addition, the Maharashtra government approved a proposal in 2008 that stated that a woman who has been in a live-in relationship for a “reasonable length” should be granted legal wife status. The PWDVA also provides for alimony to aggrieved women.
The Court in the case of A Dinohamy v. W L Blahamy held that if a couple has lived as husband and wife for an extended duration, their relationship would be regarded marital relationship unless it could be demonstrated to the contrary. Through various judgments like Payal Sharma v. Superintendent, Nari Niketan, and Ors, and S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal judiciary has given partial protection and recognition to live-in relationships in India.
The debate continues and as late H.R. Bhardwaj, then Union Law minister in 2008 while answering a question stated that if Live-in relationships are acceptable by society only then Government can consider drafting a law for it. Thus, in the Indian context, it is critical to identify such relationships by legislation that empowers both parties with rights and establishes obligations and responsibilities, thereby limiting the scope of such relationships.
The Social Need and Reasons for Emergence of Live-In Relationships
The changes in society which were brought about by industrialization had a great impact on the structure of the family unit. Families started to move to locations of work thus young unmarried people interacted with each other in the new cities and started setting up small families. But the major change came in the last decade or two.
Youngsters having the intention of living together but not having the commitment of marriage started living together in a live-in arrangement. It gave them the benefits of marriage but also set them free from its in-built burden. The trauma, both legal and financial which was a result of a divorce, in the institution of marriage could be circumvented by this new arrangement. Many times, young couples with strong independent views and affinity to personal freedom use live–in as a “pilot project” or “Test Marketing” stage. If they lasted the stipulated mutually agreed time, they would go ahead with the socially accepted institution of marriage.
What started out as a means to counter loneliness in the metropolitan cities, also gave a remedy to inter-religion and inter-caste couples who did not want to stand up against the social pressure. As same-sex marriage is still a taboo in Indian society, members of the LGBTQ community got a way to live their aspirations with minimal resistance. The live-in arrangement also helped many stay afloat inexpensive metro cities for people struggling to get a foothold during tough times.
The Troubles of Live-In
As the saying goes “Familiarity breeds contempt”, the rosy-coloured glasses are soon shattered for the individuals under the live-in association, as complexities of living together bring out similar legal issues which the married couples face like maintenance, legal heir and also some unique legal tangles like same-sex live-in rights and domestic violence issues. Not having a social sanction multiplies the complexity of the situation as society becomes the first firewall for such couples.
Cosmopolitan cities may have a fast-paced exterior but on the micro-level, the society still is full of self-designated ‘Sherlock Holmes’ trying to blow off the lid of any such couple masquerading as a legally married one. Housing Societies refuse to rent out their properties to couples in Live-in.
Though both the individuals in the Live-in setup are clear about their no-obligation relationship, still living together for a longer period of time eventually messes up their financial independence. Joint finances lead to legal bickering when they part ways with no legal remedy. Children born out of Live-in couples too face many legal tussles, even though various landmark judgments have provided limited protection on matters concerning rights of legitimacy, custody of the child, and maintenance to such children.
The problems for women under live-in relationships in the Indian society are manifold, from proving her character to protecting herself from live-in rapes, this association is not an easy journey for women.
The Historical Aspect
It may seem that Live–in is a modern age concept, an outcome of the fast-paced rootless life but in the Indian scriptures, we see many such forms of social associations which were very close to present-day live-in relationships and even had more social acceptance than today. Maitri Karar was one of these where two consenting adults of the opposite sex would agree in writing to live together as friends and take care of each other. Gandharv Vivah one of the forms of marriage mentioned in the Smritis by Manu is a form much closer to the concept of Live-in where the consent of the couple was primary with the sole aim of living together.
Every day some of the other cases regarding live-in relationship is mentioned in our media. Society is gradually opening up to this concept. Though the legal status of a Live-in relationship is still a far-away milestone many judgments like the S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal wherein the Supreme Court observed that it was not an offence for consenting adults to live together and granted protection to the couples in a live-in relationship. In the same way in a very recent judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Pardeep Singh v. State of Haryana the Court observed that a live-in relationship may not be acceptable but it cannot be termed as illegal. Such relationships stem out of the need of the individuals but till the time society starts accepting it, the law will not be able to provide it full protection and till that time the couples in Live-in will have to walk on thin ice.