Live-in relationships and the Supreme Court

A bench of the Supreme Court of India consisting of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Tirath Singh Thakur pronounced a path-breaking judgement on 21 October qua live-in-relationship, which has, of late, become a hot topic in the Indian context. The judgement jettisons the concept of live-in relationship as prevalent in the western countries and has approved the expression, “relationship in the nature of marriage” as defined in section 2(f) of the protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Factual matrix of the case
A lady by the name of D. Patchainammal (DP in short) filed a case U/S 125 Cr Pc in the year 2001 before the Family Court at Coimbtore in which she alleged that she was married to Veluswamy on 14 Sept. 1986 and since then both of them lived in her father’s house for 2-3 years. She furthers alleged that after 2-3 years, Veluswamy left the house of her father and started living in his native place, but would visit her occasionally. It is said that her husband deserted her after 2-3 years after marrying her in 1986. In her petition U/S 125 Cr Pc she said that she was unable to maintain herself, her husband Veluswamy, a teacher, was earning Rs 10000 per month, hence she claimed a maintenance amount of Rs 500 per month.

Veluswamy, on the other hand, claimed that he was married to one Laxmi on 25 June 1980 as per the Hindu marriage rites and he had a male child from her who is studying in CSI Engineering College at Ooty. To prove his marriage with Laxmi, he produced the Ration Card, Voters’ Identity Card of his wife, transfer certificate of his son, discharge certificate of his wife Laxmi from the hospital and photographs of the wedding.

Findings of the lower courts
The Family Court at Coimbtore held in its judgement dated 05/03/2004 that Veluswamy was married to D.P. and not to Laxmi. These findings were upheld by the High Court, hence Veluswamy approached the Apex Court of India against D.P.

Matter remanded back
It was held “Since Laxmi was not made a party to the proceedings before the Family Court or before the High Court and no notice was issued to her, hence any declaration about her heretical status vis-à-vis Veluswamy is wholly null and void as it will be violative of the rules of natural justice. Without giving a hearing to Laxmi no such declaration could have validly be given by the courts below that she had not married Veluswamy since such a finding would seriously affect her rights. And if no such declaration could have been given, obviously, no declaration could validly have been given that Veluswamy was validly married to D.P. Because Laxmi was the wife of Veluswamy then without divorcing her Veluswamy could not have validly married D.P.” The matter has been remanded to the Family Court to give a finding on the marital status of two ladies after issuing notice to Laxmi and after hearing her if she is found to be the wife of Veluswamy, then to give a finding about the relation of D.P. with Veluswamy when Veluswamy was residing at the house of father of D.P. for 2-3 years. Was it simply a live-in nature of marriage etc.?

Path-breaking judgement
The judgement under discussion makes a difference between “live-in relationship” and “relationship in the nature of marriage.” In his erudite judgement authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Katju on his behalf and on behalf of Hon’ble Mr Justice T.S. Thakur, many foreign judgements have been referred to. There is no judgement of the American Supreme Court on the issue of live-in relationship but various lower courts have dealt with this issue in their judgements. Some courts have accepted the right of the live-in relationship lady to claim maintenance from the man on the basis of an implied or constructive contract if she was deserted or turned out from the man’s home, others have rejected such a right unless there is a contract to the effect that she will be entitled to maintenance in case of break of the live-in relationship.

The main issue is whether a live-in relationship lady can claim maintenance and other benefits if she is deserted by the man she was living with.

Referring to the expression, “relationship in the nature of marriage,” it has been held that in order to be able to claim maintenance, the following conditions must be fulfilled: a) The couple must hold themselves out to socially as being akin to spouses. b) The must be of legal age to marry. c) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried. And d) The must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time. In the opinion of the Supreme Court, a “relationship in the nature of marriage” under the 2005 Act must also fulfil the above requirements, and in additions the parties must have lived together in a “shared household” as defined in Section 2(S) of the Act. Merely spending weekends together or a one night stand would not make it “domestic relationship. Justice Katju further elaborates, “In our opinion not all live-in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Act of 2005. To get such benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. If a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and or as a servant, it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage.

No doubt the view we are taking would exclude many women who have had a live-in relationship from the benefit of the 2005 Act, but then it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. Parliament has used the expression, “relationship in the nature of marriage” and not “live-in relationship.” The Court in the garb of interpretation cannot change the language of the statute.”

The judgement recognises the rights of a woman from the man if both of them, though not formally married, are living like husband and wife. In other words, they are helping each other and are not living together merely for sexual purpose. The relationship has all the ingredients of a husband and wife relationship sans the formal marriage. Formerly, only maintenance and other benefits, but after the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, a de facto is also entitled to such benefits. But a man and woman living together merely for fun and frolic are left out henceforth.

*Author is Advocate, Supreme Court