Live in Relationships: Is It Legal In India Or Not?

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live in relationships

The recent discussion surrounding the brutal murder of Shraddha Walkar by her live in boyfriend Aaftab Poonawala has reignited the conversation surrounding live in relationships.

A more conservative section of our society, used to victim blaming has resorted to criticizing the very concept of live-in relationships. In his remarks, Kaushal Kishore, the Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, rhapsodized educated women who live with their boyfriends instead of their parents and said that this practice encourages crime.

However, there is no evidence to back up this assertion. It is patently incorrect to use this case as an example against the concept of couples living in together, sans marriage. In fact, it is a financially viable option for most middle-class Indians, helps in creating a more egalitarian division of household work, and festers respect and bonding amongst couples. 

While the discussion surrounding live in relationships rages on, it is important to delve into the legal position of the validity of live-in relationships. The courts heavily rely on precedents and interpretations of existing laws to settle matters before them in the absence of explicitly stated statutes and provisions. Live-in relationships are not officially addressed by law, but the Indian judiciary has over the years created jurisprudence through a number of judgments.

Landmark Judgements

  1. Payal Sharma Vs Nari Niketan

The Allahabad High Court ruled in 2001 that cohabitation between a man and a woman is permissible. The HC also distinguished between morality and law. The judge stated that, according to his perspective, a man and a woman can live together even if they are not married.

  1. Lata Singh Vs State of UP

Two people of opposing sexes living together is not against the law, the Supreme Court held in Lata Singh v. State of UP in 2006.

  1. Khushboo Vs Kanniammal & Another

“A live-in relationship between two consenting individuals of heterogenic sex does not amount to any offence (except in the case of “adultery”), even though it may be seen as immoral,” the SC ruled in 2010, reiterating its 2006 decision. Since the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery in Joseph Shine v. Union of India in 2018, this exception is no longer valid. 

  1. Indra Sarma vs VKV Sarma 

In 2013, the Supreme Court defined a live-in relationship as a domestic relationship, i.e. “a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family”. The court further ruled that the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act, 2005 protects the female partner in a live-in relationship.

Criteria for the legality of live-in relationships

  1. The couple must present themselves to the public as being comparable to spouses.
  2. To get married, they must be of legal age.
  3. They must also meet all other requirements to get married legally, including being single.
  4. They had to have lived together freely and presented themselves to others as being close to spouses for a considerable amount of time.

Legal Rights of individuals cohabiting together

  1. It is not illegal for unmarried couples to jointly rent or purchase a home. Unmarried couples are permitted to cohabitate, purchase or rent property, and hold joint ownership titles.
  2. According to Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a woman who has lived with someone for a reasonable amount of time should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as a married spouse and be able to request maintenance (alimony).
  3. If a live-in couple has resided under the same roof for some years, then any child born to them will not be illegitimate. The Apex Court has stated that if a man and woman lived together consensually for an extended amount of time and had children, the children cannot be denied inheritance rights.

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