Empowering Women: Understanding the Legal Rights of Women in Live-in Relationships

Unmarried couples who opt to live together in a committed relationship are said to be in a live-in relationship, often referred to as a living together arrangement. The idea of live-in relationships has been more widely accepted in India in recent years. A live-in relationship allows both partners to get to know each other without having to officially commit to one other. However, when asked what the legal status of a live-in relationship is, the answer is that there is no established law safeguarding the rights of live-in partners. Law is a set of guidelines and orders that society accepts and follows. The rule of law delivers justice to society; without it, there would be chaos and uncontrollable conflicts.

Living in a live-in relationship in India, like any other relationship situation, has pros and cons.

Pros of Live-In Relationships in India

Personal freedom: Individuals in live-in relationships have the option to explore and understand their compatibility before committing to marriage. It enables couples to learn about each other’s habits, interests, and lifestyle, resulting in improved long-term decision-making.

Compatibility testing: Living together before marriage allows couples to analyse their compatibility and get used to each other’s habits, routines, and peculiarities. This can help them determine if they are compatible in the long run and reduce the likelihood of entering an incompatible marriage.

Shared expenses: Couples who live together can share living expenses such as rent, utilities, and groceries. This may help with reducing financial difficulties while also creating a more secure and comfortable living environment.

Emotional support: Partners in live-in relationships can give emotional support and companionship to one another. They can form an intense bond based on trust and mutual support by developing a deep awareness of each other’s emotional needs.

Flexibility: Personal choices, job decisions, and lifestyle preferences are more flexible in live-in relationships. Partners can pursue their individual ambitions and dreams while yet remaining committed to one another.

Cons of Live-In Relationships in India

Social stigma: Despite evolving attitudes, live-in relationships might still be considered socially unacceptable in India, particularly in conservative or traditional regions. This can lead to criticism, judgement, and strained relationships with family and society.

Legal ambiguity: In India, the legal status of live-in relationships is uncertain. There is no formal regulation defining the rights and duties of couples in live-in relationships, which can lead to legal ambiguity, particularly in areas such as property rights, inheritance, and child custody.

Lack of societal acceptance: Live-in relationships may endure social criticism and bias, which can make it difficult to find housing, experience social exclusion, and deal with societal pressures to marry.

Lack of commitment: Some critics say that living together without the official commitment of marriage may result in a lack of long-term commitment and stability. This has the ability to undermine trust and security in a relationship.

However, the murder of 26-year-old Shraddha Walkar in Delhi has shocked the country. Her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala’s way of killing and disposing of her body parts over months scared us all. This heinous crime, in which the accused sliced his partner into 35 pieces and stored them in the refrigerator, has sparked multiple “Love-Jihad” news debates. On the other hand, another part of society that views live-in relationships as unethical blames the victim for this horrible act. The orthodox community has discovered yet more excuses for mocking live-in partners.

Shraddha was discovered to be a victim of domestic abuse over the course of the inquiry. People questioned Shraddha’s decision not to leave Aftab in light of these revelations. All women must recognise the indicators of an abusive relationship and take the necessary steps to protect their legal rights. In this article we will discuss what women in abusive live-in relationships should know about their rights and what are the rights of a woman in a live-in relationship in India.

In so many of its decisions, the Supreme Court has declared that if a man and a woman “lived like husband and wife” in a long-term relationship and even had children, the judiciary would conclude that the two were married and the same laws were to be applied.

Unveiling The Legal Framework: Supreme Court Judgements on Live-In Relationships

Maintenance to live-in partners: The Right to Maintenance is available to wives regardless of religion under Section125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, but as no religion recognises the notion of live-in partners, it remains unclear whether live-in partners have a claim to maintenance under Indian law. In the case of Captain Ramesh Kaushal vs. Veena Kaushal, the Supreme Court concluded that section 125 is a reincarnation of section 488 of the CrPC, 1898. Explanation (b) to section 125(1) of the CrPC states, “Wife includes a woman who has been divorced by, or obtained a divorce from, her husband and has not remarried.”

In the case of Vimala v. Veeraswamy, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court broadened the reach of a provision under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is intended to serve a societal objective. The objective of the law is to prevent vagrancy and destitution. It gives an immediate solution to a forsaken wife’s access to basic necessities such as food, clothes, and shelter. When the husband attempts to dismiss the neglected wife’s claim characterising her as a kept-mistress on the flimsy grounds that he was already married, the court will insist on exacting documentation of the former marriage.

In, Dwarika Prasad Satpathy v. BidyutPrava Dixit and Anr the court ruled that the legitimacy of the marriage for the purposes of a summary action under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C. must be evaluated based on the evidence presented by the parties. The standard of proof of marriage in such proceedings is less stringent than in a criminal prosecution under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. If the claimant successfully demonstrates that she and the respondent have lived together as husband and wife, the Court may presume that they are legally wedded spouses, and in such a case, the party who denies the marital status may rebut the presumption. In proceedings under Section 125 Cr.P.C., if the Magistrate is prima facie satisfied with regard to the performance of marriage, rigorous proof of execution of essential ceremonies is not required.

In, ParveenTandon vs. TanikaTandon Case, the Respondent-woman stated that the Petitioner had not informed her of his marital status when they had met. She further alleged that the petitioner signed a marriage agreement with her to demonstrate his sincerity and duty to her and her child from a prior marriage. The decision of the Addl. Sessions Judge directing the Petitioner-man to pay ad-interim support to his live-in partner under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was maintained by the Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Justice Subramonium Prasad. The Court determined that the parties were adults who had cohabited willingly for a long period.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act: Shielding Women in Live-in Relationships

In addition to married women, the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act of 2005 protects women in live-in relationships. Despite the fact that there are no particular laws in India governing the legal status of a live-in relationship, the Indian judiciary has established jurisprudence throughout the years through the aforementioned judgements. These decisions have aided in the establishment of various rights for women in live-in relationships. The most important is the right to be protected from domestic violence.

In 2013, a bench led by Hon’ble Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan developed guidelines to include live-in relationships under the definition of marriage-like relationships for the protection of women from domestic abuse. In Indra Sarma against VKV Sarma, the Supreme Court ruled that women partners in live-in relationships are protected by the PWDV Act.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act defines a domestic relationship as “a relationship between two persons who live or have lived together in a shared household at any point in time, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption, or are family members living together as a joint family.”

The phrase “shared household” is defined in Section 2(s) of the PWDV Act, and Section 2(f) of the Act indicates that it applies to both a marriage-like relationship and a married couple.

In the landmark judgement of case, Indra Sarma vs. V.K.V.Sarma, the Supreme Court outlined five scenarios in which the idea of live-in relationships might be looked into and proven in court.

1) Domestic relationship between an unmarried adult woman and an unmarried adult male: Relationship between an unmarried adult woman and an unmarried adult male who lived or, at any point of time lived together in a shared household, will fall under the definition of Section 2f of the DV Act and in case, there is any domestic violence, the same will fall under Section 3 of the DV Act and the aggrieved person can always seek reliefs provided under Chapter IV of the DV Act.

2) Domestic relationship between an unmarried adult female and a married adult male: Situations may emerge when an unmarried adult female enters into a relationship with a married adult male. The question is whether such a relationship is “of the nature of marriage” and so falls under the scope of Section 2(f) of the DV Act.

3) Domestic relationship between a married adult woman and an unmarried adult male: Situations may arise in which an adult married woman knowingly enters into a relationship with an unmarried adult male; the question is whether such a relationship falls under the definition of “in the nature of marriage.”

4) Domestic relationship between an unmarried woman who unknowingly enters into a relationship with a married adult male: An unmarried woman who unknowingly enters into a relationship with a married adult male may, in a given situation, fall within the definition of Section 2(f) of the DV Act, and such a relationship may be in the “nature of marriage” in the opinion of the aggrieved person.

5) Domestic connection between same-sex partners (Gay and Lesbians): The DV Act does not recognise such a partnership, and it cannot be referred to as a marriage-like relationship under the Act.

The word “Palimony, which originated for the first time in the California Supreme Court, was debated for the first time in Indian courts in Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha and D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal. Section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act, Section 125 of the Cr.P.C., the Domestic Violence Act 2005, and Section 37 of the Special Marriage Act 1954 all include provisions for married women’s support. However, there is no explicit legislation in India concerning palimony.

In November 2000, the Home Minister established the Malimath Committee, which was tasked with reforming the criminal justice system. In 2003, the Committee issued its report, in which it made various recommendations concerning crimes against women. One suggestion was to change Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to change the definition of “wife.” According to the amendment, the term “wife” now includes ladies who were previously in a live-in relationship and now her accomplice has abandoned her at his will, therefore a lady in a live-in relationship can now get the status of a wife.

It means that if a woman has been in a live-in relationship for a reasonable amount of time, she has the same legal rights as a spouse and can claim support under Section 125 CrPC. It was noticed that if couples live together as husband and wife, a presumption in favour of marriage would develop. However, because the Section encompasses lawfully married women, many people have objected to it.

Legitimacy of Children Born out of Live-In Relationship

Various court judgements and legislative laws in India have addressed the status of a child born from a live-in relationship. Here is an overview of the current legal position.

In the case of S.P.S. Balasubramanyam vs. Suruttayan, the Supreme Court granted legal legitimacy to children born from live-in relationships for the first time in 1993. Furthermore, the bench stated that if a man and a woman live in the same residence and cohabit for a long period of time, there is a presumption of marriage under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Eventually, children will be regarded as being legitimate and will be entitled to a part of family property.

In the case of 2010 of Bharatha Matha v. Vijaya Renganathan, Supreme Court held that the child born out of a live-in relationship may be allowed to inherit the property of the parents (if any) and therefore be given legitimacy in the eyes of law. The court held that denying the child legitimacy would be a violation of their fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court clarified in 2015 that a child born to parents in a live-in relationship is entitled to inherit their parents’ property, including both moveable and immovable assets.

The Supreme Court ruled in Kattukandi Edathil Krishnan & Others against Kattukandi Edathil Valsan & Others on June 20, 2022, that children born to partners in live-in relationships can be regarded legitimate if the relationship is long-term and not “walk in, walk out.”

The Supreme Court ruled in Tulsa & Ors vs. Durghatiya & Ors that children born out of cohabitation/live-in relationships cannot be treated as illegitimate, however, certain conditions must be met, such as the parents cohabiting for a significant amount of time under one roof so that society recognises them as husband and wife.

Can the mother of the child choose not to give father’s name to the child born out of a live in relationship?

The mother of a child born from a live-in relationship has a choice of withholding the father’s name off the child’s birth certificate. If the father’s name is not on the birth certificate, he may not be compelled to give financial support for the child unless paternity is legally established. If paternity is confirmed in the future, the father may be held liable for child support retroactive to the date of determination.

If the father’s name is not provided on the birth certificate, the child may face difficulties in establishing inheritance rights over the father’s property in the future. This article has demonstrated that Indian courts, via their decisions, have identified and recognised the notion of live-in relationships and do give maintenance in accordance with pre-established regulations. However, this is dependent on the facts of the case.

Women who remain in live-in relationships are frequently mocked, insulted, looked down upon, and terrified into silence. This occurs despite the fact that the law recognises live-in relationships. One of the reasons women do not leave abusive intimate partner situations is a fear of being judged and blamed for the horrors. A segment of society believes that women who choose to live together with a man before marriage deserve adversity. Live-in relationships are frowned upon in Indian society.

It is crucial to educate women in live-in relationships about their rights in order to empower them and provide them with the knowledge and resources they need to defend themselves. We should give details about organisations, helplines, and legal aid institutions that support women in live-in relationships. This can involve free legal advice, counselling, and legal representation, as well as assisting women in understanding the possible social stigma and problems they may encounter in a live-in relationship. We must encourage them to form a network of friends, family, or organisations to give emotional support and guidance. We need to educate more and more women about their rights so that victims of domestic violence can be spared and tragedies like the murder of Shradhha Walkar do not occur.

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