Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered police protection for a live-in couple whose families were threatening them. It held that the right to life is an inalienable right guaranteed by our Constitution under Article 21 to every citizen, unless stated otherwise by a fair and reasonable law. In this case, while both the partners are adults, the boy was yet to turn 21 years and so not legally of marriageable age. The court observed that two adults cannot be legally stopped from living together with informed consent, whether they are married or not.
This is not the first time that the Punjab and Haryana High Court safeguarded the right to cohabit with the partner of one’s choice irrespective of marriage. In a 2020 case with similar facts, the Court had stated that, “Whether or not of marriageable age, every major individual has a right to live his or her life as he or she deems fit.”
It is an established legal principle that where the two partners are adults, they have the fundamental right to live-in without any interference. Courts on multiple occasions have treated live-in relationships in the nature of marriage and conferred other rights such as property rights, rights of children etc on them.
In this Weekly, let’s explore what are the rights of live-in couples in India.
Right to Cohabitation
Article 19(1)(e) of the Indian Constitution states that every citizen has the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India. So, adults who wish to live together have the right to reside anywhere and cannot be denied accommodation based on their marital status.
Right to life
Right to life and personal liberty is guaranteed to every citizen under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In Shafin Jahan v. Ashokan K.M (2018), the Supreme Court of India held that the “right to take decisions on matters central to the pursuit of personal happiness” was a key part of the right to personal liberty protected under this Article. If two adults decide to stay together, whether married or not, they are entitled to protection from any threats to their life or any interference with their personal liberty.
Rights of children born to live-in couples
As mentioned earlier, live-in relationships are presumed to be in the nature of marriages. Children born to live-in couples enjoy the same status as children born out of valid marriages. The Supreme Court in a 2008 case established that children cannot be deemed illegitimate merely because they were born to live-in couples. While specific rights of inheritance of children born to live-in parents will be determined by their respective personal laws, they are eligible to claim maintenance under section 125 of the CRPC.
Protection from domestic violence
The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 protects any woman living with her partner in the nature of marriage from any domestic violence.