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Is Live-in Relationship Legal in India?


To understand the concept broadly, live-in relation is an arrangement in which two people, who are not married, live together.

There is no strict law or separate legislation as such passed for the live-in relationship. The law does not provide any right and obligations to the party under any statue. But Supreme Court has evolved and determined the live-in relationship in its various judgements and in order to understand the scope and validity of a live-in relationship we have to look upon those Supreme Courts judgements.


The first case where SC recognised live-in relationship

The Badri Prasad v Dy. Director of Consolidates, the Supreme Court interpreted a 50 years long live-in relationship as a valid marriage. Jts. Krishna Iyer strong presumption arose in favour of wedlock where both man and woman stayed as husband and wife for a long-term duration. 


Does the court consider a live-in relationship to be marriage

In the case of SPS Balasubramanyam v Sruttayan,[1] the Supreme Court held that any woman or man living under the same room and also have been cohabiting for a certain number of years (not strictly specified), then it will be presumed by the court that these parties have been living as husband and wife under section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act.

The court has also allowed the right to maintenance under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 especially for the child and women who are the part of live-in relationship. And added that live-in relationship will fall under the phrase of ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ of section 2(f) of the 2005 PWDV Act.


The legitimacy of the child born out of a live-in relationship

The Supreme Court in the case of Tulsa v Durghatiya[2]held that the child born from a Live-in or co-living relationship will not be considered as an illegitimate child. The prerequisite condition mentioned is that the parents must be living together under the same roof for a given number of years and the society can deem them to be ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. The live-in relationship hence cannot be presumed to be a ‘walk in and walk out’ relationship. The court granted the right to property to the child.


Is it a crime to be in a live-in relationship?

The Supreme Court in its judgement of S Khushbhoo v Kanniammal[1], 2010 dropped the charge u/s 499 (defamation) of the IPC. Khushboo was a film actress when she made a statement in favour of live-in relationship and premarital sex, she was sued for the same. Supreme Court said that pre-marital sex and live-in relationship if consented by both the heterogeneous adult, it cannot amount to any offence. Court further added that Live-in relationship is a right to life under and hence not ‘illegal’. The court also dropped other allegations against her of obscenity u/s 292 and 509 of the IPC.

Supreme Court quoted the judgement of Lata Singh v State of UP and Anr.[2], 2006 where the Supreme Court observed that live-in relationship between two consenting adults of heterogenic sex does not amount to any offence (with the obvious exception of adultery u/s 497 IPC), even though it may be perceived as immoral in the eyes of conservative Indian society.   


Below 18 years of age: The Supreme Court in the Nandakumar v State of Kerala[3] has overruled the judgement of the Kerala High Court. Kerala High Court held the marriage as null and void under the Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006, as in the case boy didn’t complete the age of 21 years and married to a girl (above 18 years). The custody of the girl was handed over to her father. The boy thereafter attaining the age of 21 years filed a petition in the Supreme Court and the court held that once the person has completed its legal age for marriage, i.e. 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys, then they can live with whomsoever person they want legally and nobody can restrict them. The court upheld the right to live with personal liberty under this case. Court further said that adult can have a live-in relationship even if the man’s age is below 21 years and hence marriage is not void under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Merely because the boy's age was less than 21 it cannot be said that the marriage between the two parties is null and void.  


Does all the live-in relationship will be considered as marriage

The Supreme Court in the case of D. Velusamy v D. Patchaiammal[4] held that not all the relationship will be recognised as marriage and attain the benefit of the Domestic Violence Act 2005. A relationship where a man keeps a woman as a servant and maintain her financially and uses mainly for the sexual purpose, such a relationship would not be considered as marriage by the court. So, in order to get the benefit of the Domestic Violence Act, the condition set up by the court must be satisfied and shall be proved through evidence, which is: (1) that the couple must hold themselves out t society as being akin to spouses, (2) must be of legal age to qualify for marriage, and (3) must voluntarily cohabit together under the same roof.    


A recent judgement by the Supreme Court

In the case of Indra Saran v VKV Sarma,[5] the Supreme Court has given 5 categories of live-in relationship which can be considered and proved by a court of law.

·   Domestic relation between same-sex partners

·  Domestic relation between an unmarried adult female and married male entered unknowingly

·  Domestic relation between an adult unmarried man and a married woman entered knowingly. Will fall under section 497 of IPC, i.e. adultery (adultery is not a crime but can form the basis for divorce as per the recent judgement, Jts. DY Chandrachud in his obiter dictum has further said to that right to explore sexuality for a married person should within the ambit of right to life under article 21 of the constitution). 

·   Domestic relation between a married man and an adult unmarried woman entered knowingly

·  Domestic relation between an unmarried adult man and an unmarried adult woman. 

[1] SPS Balasubramanyam v Suruttayan Alias Andali Padayachi and Ors, AIR 1992 SC 756

[2] Tulsa vDurghatiya [(2008) 4 SCC 520

[3]  S. Khushboo vs. Kanniammal & Anr. (2010) 5 SCC 600

[4]  Lata Singh Vs. State of U.P. & Anr., AIR 2006 SC 2522

[5]  Nandakumar vs The State of Kerala on 20 April 2018

[6]  D Velusamy Vs D Patchaiammal, CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 2028-2029 OF 2010

[7]  Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma, Crl. App. No. 2009 of 2013; Decided on 26-11-2013 (SC): 2013 (14) SCALE 448 [K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose, JJ.]

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