Every day, we all wake up to the news of some of the most horrifying crimes across the country but in the last few days, there’s just one gruesome crime that has taken over the headlines for the new and chilling details that come to light every single day. Yes, I’m referring to Delhi’s Shraddha Walker murder case. Shraddha Walker had moved from Mumbai to Delhi with her boyfriend Aftab Poonawalla and the duo were in a live-in relationship. During one of their fights, Aftab allegedly killed Shraddha by strangling her and then chopped her body into 35 pieces and stored them in their fridge while slowly disposing of the pieces in the Mehrauli forest area over the next 18 days. This case has people questioning live-in relationships among other things. So, if you too have questions regarding the legalities of live-in relationships and the rights of the people in a live-in, here’s all you need to know.
Marriages are a big deal in India. Here, we consider marriage to be the union of two families. Divorce is looked down upon in our country this is why several couples opt for live-in relationships as it allows them to part ways without much legal paperwork and without the involvement of the state. But even pre-marital sex is frowned upon in India which is why couples cohabiting without getting married is something that is considered to be inappropriate and immoral but over the years, the Indian judiciary has legalised live-in relationships under Article 21 of the Constitution of India under the right to freedom of choice and liberty. This means that any person who is a legal adult can get into a live-in relationship with a person of their choice (provided they too are a legal adult i.e., above 18 years of age) out of free will.
Live-in relationships have been legalised by the Indian judiciary through several case laws i.e., judgements. In several cases, courts have called live-in relationships legal provided they meet certain requirements that make them akin to marriage. Some of the cases are Payal Sharma v. Nari Niketan (AIR 2001 All 254), Badri Prasad v. Director of Consolidation of 1978 (3 SCC 527), Gokal Chand v. Parvin Kumari (AIR 1952 SC 231), Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma of 2013 (15 SCC 755) and Velusamy v. Patchaiammal of 2010 (10 SCC 469) among several others.
What Conditions Does A Live-In Relationship Need To Meet For It To Be Like Marriage Under The Law?
– The couple needs to cohabit and have a shared household for a significant period of time. This means that they have to be living together for some months or years.
– Both partners should be above 18 years of age and unmarried. If one or both of them were married in the past and got divorced, then too, their relationship can be considered as a live-in akin to marriage.
– The duo should not be living like roommates but more like partners. They should have a relationship, duties towards each other and behaviours that indicate that they’re a couple. For example, they should be socialising together or have some kind of shared finances or at least contribute towards the home.
– In order for a relationship to be ‘in the nature of marriage’ as per the court of law, simply maintaining finances and having a sexual relationship does not make a relationship a live-in relationship. Spending weekends or a few weeks together does not make it a domestic relationship.
– For a live-in relationship to be considered ‘in the nature of marriage’, the couple has to have a shared household where they live together and have the intent of being in a live-in relationship.
– Since live-in relationships have the characteristics of a marriage, the woman in the relationship can seek protection under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
– As per the personal laws in India and the Criminal Procedure Code, the wife can seek maintenance if her husband fails or refuses to support her. While live-in relationships aren’t recognised by religions, a woman in a live-in relationship can seek maintenance from her partner under the Criminal Procedure Code. This has been brought under the ambit of the CrPC because a live-in relationship is much like marriage which makes her eligible to seek maintenance.
– If at the time of a person’s death, they have been in a long-term live-in relationship with someone, this person has the right to inherit the property of their partner. In 2015, in Dhannulal v. Ganeshram (12 SCC 301), the court settled a property dispute wherein a man had died without a will and at the time of his death he had been cohabiting with a woman for 20 years but the two were married. The family of the man claimed that she was not entitled to inherit the property as they weren’t married but the court held that since the man and woman were living together like a married couple, it will be presumed under the law that they were “living together in a valid marriage”.
– For children born out of wedlock but within the bounds of a live-in relationship are considered to be legitimate. While cohabiting couples aren’t allowed to adopt children but they can have their own kids who will have the legal status of legitimacy and will have the right to property inheritance the same as that of the kids born out of a marriage. These rights extend to both ancestral as well as self-bought properties.
– In case you’re in a relationship with a foreign national, there’s good news for you. In 2015, in Svetlana Kazankina v. Union of India (225 DLT 613), the court noted that the woman, who was an Uzbekistan national, was eligible for a visa extension to continue staying in the country as she was in a live-in relationship with an Indian man. Earlier, this right-to-visa extension only covered married couples but the live-in relationship has been brought under its ambit due to their similarities to marriage.
FYI, couples are permitted to be in a live-in relationship, irrespective of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. This means that queer couples are also legally permitted to be in a live-in relationship but the law does not specifically refer to queer couples meaning that it is a little ambiguous. Apart from this, it is essential to note that the rights of couples in live-in relationships are based on case laws but our country does not have a legal framework under or a prescribed set of rules or regulations around live-in. Everything that we know is based on judicial precedents set by the court of law.