Contrary to popular belief, live-in relationships have been discussed in Indian law, and the rights of live-in couples have been a subject of debate in courts for quite some time now.
In 1978 itself, the Supreme Court recognised a 50 year long live-in relationship as a valid marriage. The Court noted that for a couple who have lived together in society as husband and wife for a long time, there is a strong presumption in favour of marriage. If someone wants to deprive the legality of the relationship, the burden is on them to negate the presumption.
Since then, there have been several other cases that have discussed the concept of live-in relationships, and at times even granted them the much needed legitimacy and protection. Hereunder is a summarised version of these discussions from courts that cover the legal status of live-in relationships and its implications.
What are live-in relationships?
Live-in relationships are relationships where two adults above the age of eighteen cohabit together without marrying each other. While there is no specific law that governs these relationships, they are not restricted either. Courts, on multiple occasions, have upheld the rights of couples to live together without any interference.
Most protections granted by Courts to couples in live-in relationships have been based on presuming their relationship to be in the nature of marriage. The power to make this presumption is derived from Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, that has allowed Courts to offer such couples protections for securing property rights, rights of children, etc.
Most recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recognised the right of two consenting adults to be in a live-in relationship, even if they are not of marriageable age. The Court held that every adult has a right to live their life as they desire and their family members cannot order how and with whom they spend their life.
Rights to cohabitation for LGBT+ couples
The right to be in a live-in relationship is applicable to all, irrespective of a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation or choice of partner. In 2020, the Orissa High Court recognised the right of a trans-man and a cis-woman to cohabit together in a live-in relationship. The Court protected them from any interference by their family in enjoying their rights.
Status of children born from live-in relationships
Many personal laws distinguish between the rights of legitimate children and the rights of illegitimate children. However, , on certain occasions, the Courts have recognised the rights of children born from live-in relationships to be at par with legitimate children.
In 2008, the Supreme Court in a property dispute provided legal status to children born from a live-in relationship. It held that for a child born from such a relationship to be treated as legitimate, the parents must have cohabited for a considerable time to be recognised in society as husband and wife.
Protection from domestic violence in live-in relationships
Protection under domestic violence law is wide ranging and extends to women in different kinds of relations. It is a common misconception that such protection only extends to married women, when in fact it also extends to women in live-in relationships. So, if an unmarried woman is staying with her partner in a live-in relationship that is in the nature of marriage, she can apply for protection under domestic violence law if required. .
To read more about the applicability of the domestic violence law to live-in relationships, read this explainer.
If you have any questions on the law that applies to live-in relationships, visit Ask Nyaaya.