Courts on live-in relationships – Revisited

Here’s what the Supreme Court ruled whilst deciding how maintenance could be sought in a live-in relationship.

A woman in a live-in relationship is not entitled to maintenance unless she fulfils certain parameters, the Supreme Court held on Thursday while observing that merely spending weekends together or a one night stand would not make it a domestic relationship.

A bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and T S Thakur said that in order to get maintenance, a woman, even if not married, has to fulfill the following four requirements: (1) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses, (2) they must be of legal age to marry, (3) they must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage including being unmarried, (4) they must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.

“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 (Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act).

To get such benefits 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,” the court said.

“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 (Protection of Women from Domestic Violence 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 bench observed.

The apex court passed the judgement while setting aside the concurrent orders passed by a matrimonial court and the Madras High Court awarding Rs 500 maintenance to D Patchaiammal who claimed to have married the appellant D Velusamy.

Velusamy had challenged the two courts order on the ground that he was already married to one Laxmi and Patchiammal was not married to him though he lived with her for some time.

In an earlier post back in May of 2009, I had commented on the subject of “live-in” relationships with particular regard to a case of dowry demand while in such a relationship.

I said the aim of the courts in ruling on this issue, setting guidelines etc, would actually act as a deterrent to such relationships. I see the latest ruling denying maintenance in the absence of evidences of living-in, in similar light.

It seems to me that courts are standing in for society and making all those decisions that ideally should be guided by tradition. Hindu traditions do not give easy sexual relationships the same value as they do the institution of marriage. That much is quite obvious. Societal scorn used to act as barriers and checks on living-in arrangements and kept them either to a minimum or to states of impermanence usually consummating in marriage.

Liberalism has ushered in much change in the way individuals in society have begun to perceive themselves. They want the freedom but don’t seem to want the responsibility that goes with it. They want to live-in because it frees them from various responsibilities of married life. The tentativeness or the impermanence of the relationship in an earlier time seems now gone. So couples want to continue and go on living-in giving rise to problems that more permanent relationships sometimes give rise to. Since aggrieved (living-in) partners cannot ideally be expected to receive support from their families, they look to the courts for help.

The courts are constrained by practical problems of evidence whilst deciding on such matters. Since the nature of the relationship has always been temporary, it has also failed to evolve social support structures. I notice, the courts in their rulings are trying their best to force some sort of social norm – an audit trail if you please – into place that would, they hope, be left behind by those living-in.

My hope is that this insistence on social “audit trails” act as deterrents to runaway living-in relationships. It can only do us good.

– Namaste

5 Responses

  1. Haven’t read the judgment yet but from the gist of it, I understand that the specific outcome was dictated by the language of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which does not restrict relief to married couples but also extends it to “relationships in the nature of marriage”. The question was what sort of live-in relationships would fall within the purview of that phrase. On the face of it, the test laid down appears quite reasonable.

    One would have expected traditionalists to be concerned about the impact of such legislation on marriage but when the law was passed, I believe it was unanimous without as much as a murmur of protest even from the Right.

  2. I think you are totally wrong on this.In Kerala,there existed a live-in relationship system called


    The wikipedia article waters down the extent of live-in relationships..I have personally heard from grand mother that the practice was extensive and in Indian express south indian edition(New Indian Express) a even wrote that women’s status were gauged by their sexual prowness by her partners and they were not treated as condescending and in a judgemental manner for their lifestyle like calling them “sluts” etc.
    We have been conditioned by Victorian&Muslim value system which we should discard and return to roots which where liberal.

  3. Pilid, I don’t think your being very fair here in so far as the stipulation in the 2005 Act is concerned. The wording itself very vague and we see how the courts are still trying to make sense of it.

    Be that as it may, the so called “Right” in Hindusthan has assumed a faithful ally in the traditional Hindu samaja. The existence of such a bulwark has made the “Right” very lazy in its thinking.

    Kannan, please go through the link you pasted and show me where Sambandham may be likened to live-in relationships?

  4. Agree with you that the DVA, 2005 is a very poorly written law (surprisingly, even Women’s organizations who proposed it were not too happy with the wording). The vagueness has given rise to a lot of controversy with women’s activists asking the court to shelve “literal” interpretation and give it instead a “progressive” construction. Justice Katju has however so far rejected this approach (his earlier judgment Batra v. Batra raised a ruckus because of this).

    I do not know if it is laziness of thinking of the Right or the power of the vocal women’s activists that is at issue. I would have expected the BJP to reflect to some extent at least the views of our society but so far there is little evidence of it on any issue other than the few ones we are all familiar with – Ayodhya, Art.370 and perhaps a few others.
    When it comes to more contemporary issues which crop up whenever any law is proposed, the BJP simply chooses to go along with the flow. Sushma Swaraj is as militant and hand in glove with the activists as Brinda Karat, so it is not surprising that the BJP takes positions remarkably in line with the Leftist viewpoint. The traditionalist viewpoint thus finds no mention anywhere across the political spectrum.

  5. Pilid, pure mental sloth.

    The BJP as well as the Sangh have mostly steered clear off any definitive stance on such and like issues. They have been pleased to use proxies rather than show their own cards.

    They fact that these good folks still play “Teen Patti” with Ayodhya, Art 370 and UCC” says a lot about their intellectual awakening.

    The only hope is for the free Hindu samaja to act directly. I feel the courts should also cease feeling compelled to rule on every social issue that’s taken to courts and plainly tell “aggreived” parties to discuss and resolve within their own families.

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