People often have this doubt - “Is live-in relationship legal in India?”. There is no law that prohibits two adults from living together under one roof, regardless of whether they are married or not. There is a dilemma around the legality and rights in live-in relationship because ancient India did not have this concept of man and a woman staying together without any relation through blood, marriage or adoption. In fact, it is considered morally wrong even in today’s advanced era. But morals do not run the law as much as the basic rights do. That is why in the absence of any concrete laws dealing with live in relationships, the hon’ble Supreme Court and various High Courts have allowed living in relationships.
However, marriage is not a mere societal tag. It brings a lot of relative rights for parties involved. Examples include various rights related to dowry, domestic violence, property, children’s rights, judicial separation and divorce. Most of the time, living in relationships has been equated with that of husband and wife in a marriage while comprehending the corresponding rights. Such rights have been discussed hereunder.
While discussing live in relationship rights in India, the first one is to stay together, cohabit under one roof. People often assume that since this is against the morals set by Indian culture and society, it is illegal as well. Those living in a relationship are also threatened in the name of arrests and jail. However, it has to be understood that when two adults stay together with each other’s consent out of love, they are not really committing any crime. In a landmark case, the Supreme Court accepted the same as a right to life and explained that “Notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy.”
When two adults decide to start living together, they need a place for such a setup. There is a misconception that people living in relationships do it against the law, and that they are not entitled to a rented or own property. And that anyone renting them a property may be prosecuted. It should be noted that property rights in live in relationship are just the same as any individual may have. It's just that property owners may not want to rent their property to couples living together without marriage. In such cases, they can not be forced, since food habits or religious preferences of property owners can not be challenged as it is personal choice. However, it nowhere becomes illegal to rent or own a property with a live-in partner.
It is a well known piece of information that runaway couples who marry against their parents’ will are given police protection to prevent events of honor killing. Well, it is another fact that sometimes, even couples living in relationships are threatened for their life and safety by the so-called members of moral police, or the family members. In such cases, these couples have the right to approach concerned police station for protection against interference with life and personal liberty as settled in case of Kamini Devi.
If a couple is living in a relationship, this fact does not nullify their chance to marry each other, or for that matter, end their relationship and marry someone else as well. Whether such act will be considered as bigamy (since live-in relationships are considered in the nature of a marriage), it remains a question unanswered yet.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 applies to women staying in a shared household with the others. The question here arises as to whether rights of female in live-in relationship correspond to that of a wife under the Act for enforcement of her rights against violence by her live-in partner? The answer is provided by the apex court in case of Indra Sarma whereby the court accepted that a live-in relationship in the nature of marriage may attract the provisions of DV Act, 2005 applied. However, such application may vary depending upon the specific facts of the case.
Payment of maintenance to the wife comes as a right under various personal laws including the Hindu Marriage Act,1955, as well as secular law under CrPC. In case of Chanmuniya, the hon’ble Supreme Court allowed maintenance to the woman (who married her husband’s younger brother after his death as per community rituals and lived as a wife) under section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. On the contrary, in case of Indra Sarma, the court denied maintenance to the live-in partner saying that “We are conscious of the fact that if any direction is given to the respondent to pay maintenance or monetary consideration to the appellant, that would be at the cost of the legally wedded wife and children of the respondent, especially when they had opposed that relationship”.
Hence, whether rights of female in live in relationship in India shall include right to maintenance depends upon the particular facts of the matter. Clarity can be sought with the help of family lawyers.
‘Entering a live-in relationship will take away all the rights in one’s own family’ is a misconception. Rights in an ancestral property (coparcenary rights) as well as self acquired property of parents comes as a birthright. In case of parents’ self acquired property, it is their decision as to what they wish to do with it and whom they want it to be transferred to. However, after their death, all their children have equal rights in such property unless there is a will to the contrary.
The next question arises, whether live-in partners have any right in each other’s property as a legally wedded spouse has? In case of Dhannulal, the supreme Court upheld inheritance of property by the woman after her husband’s death, whereby the lawful marriage could not be proved. The court held that even in such a case when a man and a woman have been cohabiting as a husband and wife for years, they have the right to inherit property as a legally wedded spouse.
As per Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), the prospective adoptive parents shall be physically, mentally, emotionally and financially capable and have at least two years of stable marital relationship. As per current trends, couples living in a relationship do not share a stable marital relationship. For that reason, live-in partners may not be allowed to adopt children. However, for couples living together for a longer term, courts presume them to be lawfully wedded couples, unless the contrary is proved. Hence, it depends upon specific facts as to whether a couple living in a relationship may be allowed to adopt a child or not.
For CARA regulation 5 reiterating the eligibility criteria for prospective adoptive parents - Click Here.
A child born out of a live in relationship may be a taboo for society. But since live-in relationships are normalized, children born out of such relationships can not be disregarded either. The section 16 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 particularly deals with the legitimacy of children born out of void or voidable marriages and their right to inheritance in parents’ property. Since courts mostly tend to grant live-in relationships the tag of marriage, children born out of such relationships are more likely to be considered as legitimate. Moreover, whether they get coparcenary rights or the right to inherit property owned by anyone else except the parents, it still remains a question answerable by courts and personal laws.
Even while courts are making all efforts to throw some light on various aspects related to live in relationship law, it’s high time for the legislature to step in with a detailed statute. It will kill any confusion once and for all regardless of whether it is society, live-in partners, or the unauthorized so-called moral police. By then, thankfully there are plenty of case laws to pave the way for couples living together without marriage.
Q- Does a live-in boyfriend have any rights?
A- Talking about the rights of man in live-in relationships may seem a bit off the beat. People often ignore men in a relationship. As a partner living in a relationship, men have the right to cohabit, to inherit partner’s property in case of death, and take care of children as a legitimate father. Whether he can get maintenance like that of a husband under Hindu Marriage Act, the court may decide. Provisions like restitution of conjugal rights like that under HMA, he may not enjoy rights equivalent to a hindu husband unless marriage is proved.
Q- Can I stay in a live-in relationship without divorce from my husband?
A- The Supreme Court in a recent case made it clear that living in a relationship with a person despite being married to someone else may not be a crime after adultery was decriminalized. However, it can not be encouraged against a marriage, since it will disrupt the social fabric of the society.
Q- What are my rights as a live in girlfriend?
A- The rights of female in live-in relationship include right to maintenance, rights against domestic violence, right to inherit partner’s property in case of death, right to have a baby, etc.