INDIA, though traditionally conceived as a conservative country, is slowly opening its doors to western ideas and lifestyles, one of which is the concept of live in relationships. It is an arrangement under which the couples which are unmarried live together to conduct a long- going relationship similar to a marriage. A live in relationship provides for a life free from responsibility and commitment unlike as in a marriage. Living-in is a convenient sub-martial relationship that may or may not lead to a legal marriage. But it leaves open the option of parting ways without undergoing the hassle of divorce, which may be compounded by a costly settlement obligation.
There are multitudes of reasons for the increased preference of couples to have live in relationship instead of a much- accepted matrimony. The basic idea behind conducting a live in relationship is that the interested couple wants to test their compatibility for each other before going some commitment. It may also be that couples in live-in relationships see no benefit or value offered by the institution of marriage or that their financial situation prevents them from being married on account of marriage expenses or to establish financial security before officially tying the knot. Certain individuals may also prefer to be in a live in relationship because in their opinion, relationships are their personal and private matters that ought not to be controlled by religious, political and/or patriarchal institutions.
Live-in relationships in India are often seen as a taboo and a sin. None of the statues dealing with succession or marriage such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Special Marriage Act, 1954 or the Indian Succession Act, 1925 and so on recognize live-in relationships specifically. Women in such relationships don’t possess any substantive rights under any law.
In the absence of any law to define the status of live in relationships, the Courts have time and again flexed their hands and accorded interpretation to this complex issue. Living together has been long considered to be presumption of marriage until some facts proven it to be otherwise under Section 114 of the Evidence Act.
The year 2010 was a significant year in the legal sphere related to live-in relationships, with the judiciary in both the Supreme Court and the High Courts delivering numerous decisions on the legal status of live-in relationships.
The live in relationship may be immoral, but is not illegal. Even the Judiciary has accorded legality to the concept of live in relationship and has protected the rights of the parties and the children of live in couples but there are certain grey areas which have not been adequately addressed. However, there is no law which makes a live in relationship illegal. The concept of live-in relationships have come out of the closet and even found partial recognition in law. There has been a huge societal change in the attitude towards live-in relationships for instance the case of multinational companies providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners of the employees.
Though the debate rages on in public forum with recommendations and opinions yet coming in from various authorities and Commissions to either amend the existing laws or desist from doing so, there have been no amendments to the existing personal law. It is thus, worthwhile to examine whether or not, live-in relationships can find their place in personal laws in the country.
The law needs to ascertain and clearly specify the length of time of cohabitation which will enable the person to be qualified as live-in partners in order to attain benefits flowing from such a relationship. It needs the immediate attention of the lawmakers to make it clear through suitable legislation otherwise different couples may be subjected to different yardsticks when they seek their rights. After all, live-in relationships are based on informal understandings.
Live-in relationships have been accorded a legal status by the Courts subject to certain conditions which are ambiguous and need further clarification. Until such clarification is notified by the Legislature, legalized live-in relationships appear to be a reality in the background of the judicial decisions, but they are ex facie a distant dream.
BY SANYA SINGHAL