Live-In relationships in India - What does the law say?Subscribe

The Supreme Court of India gave legal recognition to live-in relationships for the first time in 2010. It classified them as “Domestic Relationships” and protected the women in such relationships from Domestic Violent Act, 2005, commonly known as DV Act. 

The court was clear that a live-in relationship would fall under the “right to life.” It also said that two adults who consented to live together could not be considered unlawful or illegal. 

However, the Supreme Court also categorized live-in relationships under two categories. It is said it could be a domestic cohabitation between two unmarried individuals or two individuals with at least one unmarried. Interestingly the Supreme Court doesn’t recognize the second category of relationships. 

What does it mean from a legal perspective?

From a legal perspective, it is recognized that two individuals may live together without marriage. However, one married person living with another person (married or unmarried) is illegal under the law of adultery and marriage laws. 

Moreover, different state high courts have responded to such cases differently. Some refuse to protect such couples purely on a legal basis; others refuse to accept them from a social justice point of view. The Delhi High Court, for instance, continues to protect and uphold the rights of the female live-in partner, irrespective of her marital status.

The counterargument that supports such relationships is that it is only ‘marrying another person when the first spouse still lives and hasn’t been divorced,’ which is criminal. Another domestic relationship does not fall under the criminality of the marriage act. So, it should be OK for two willing adults to live together.

What does it mean from a social perspective?

When the Punjab and Haryana High Courts ruled that ‘such relationships destroy the social fabric and hence cannot be protected,’ it encouraged social bias against such relationships. A relationship ‘in the nature of marriage’ doesn’t automatically become a marriage. However, it becomes difficult for couples to seek protection from violence or harassment in case families decide to oppose them. Similarly, it also becomes difficult for an individual living in a live-in relationship to seek protection from domestic violence if needed. 

What is the future of Live-in relationships in India?

Whether live-in relationships are ethical or not, moral policing is not an option, especially when the Supreme Court acknowledges that these relationships are within the range of the fundamental right to life. Praiseworthy, Punjab and Haryana High Courts have also constituted a higher bench to examine the legal controversy around domestic violence, protecting people and other aspects of such relationships.

Once the Supreme Court and the High Courts elaborate more on the rights of the live-in partners, it will become more accessible for people to accept the factual reality of today’s society and live peacefully and happily in live-in relationships.






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