Legal discourse on Live-in-Relationships by Devendra Singh Sai


India is still looked by the world as a country where marriage occupies a sacramental position both philosophically and practically. The transformation in the life styles towards western style has definitely brought the need of ‘common law wife’ in India as well. By recognizing a woman who has not entered into the wedlock with rights of wife, whether we would do some harm to society?
Live-in-relationships are not new in our society. The only difference is that now people have become open about it. Formally they were known as “maĆ®tres karats” in which people of two opposite sex would enter into a written agreement to be friends, live together and look after each other[1]. Joel D Block, a leading Psychologist at New York has differentiated between three kinds of relationships on the basis of assumed obligations. “Going together implies sexual exclusivity; living together adds to this an agreement to combine living routines and marriage the implication of permanence. Living arrangements are the midpoint between the least restrictive (going with someone) and the most complex (the marriage). The very nature of the closeness allows a couple to provide with feedback so that they may recognize and modify relationship-defeating behaviors. It contains an element of convenience.”[2] 
When we apply living relationships to an average class of people, we find it less prevalent as this class is scrutinized more in the society. On the contrary both the high income group and the lower income group are in a position to readily accept newer kinds of relationships[3]. A girl from a poor family that is in need of shelter without much hesitation can consider no harm in living with a man of a slightly higher financial status without marrying him. Now-a-days even parents have slowly started giving sanctions to living arrangements for the sake of happiness of their children. The busy lives do not permit us to look into background of couple if they decide to live in a new place or city.
Someone has rightly opined that the world as God created was a kingdom of right relationships. There was right relationship between God and people. There was right relationship between people. There was right relationship between people and the rest of creation. Now relationships that lack any sanctity are even being termed as right by the policy makers, what more we can expect in God’s beautiful and pure kingdom. No relationship can ever be equated with a relationship as eternal as marriage. Hence the option of live-in-relationships may seem attractive but the real side may not be that fancy. They may be practically possible but their success in life which some day requires a life-long companion is definitely dull.
From analyzing the relationships, it becomes evident that live-in couples are still largely from professions like entertainment, advertising, modeling and media[4]. Samindara Sawant, clinical psychologist, Disha Counseling Clinic, Mumbai has found that the trend of live-in relationships has not really caught on in India, especially in the middle and upper middle classes, where marriage is still very much the norm[5].
According to a survey by The Journal of Marriage and the Family, live in’ relationships are weak commitments. Similarly, Priya Florence Shah, Internet entrepreneur and blogger has observed being against such relationships – living-in would be equivalent of lowering standards and settling for less than what one deserves. For most, living together is not an end, it’s just a fun thing to do - perhaps a rebellion here and now notes Damayanti Datta, Deputy Editor with India Today[6].  Living in helps you get a better idea about your partner before marriage.
India has its own set of laws however; presently there is no law at present to deal with the concept of live-in-relationships and their legality[7]. Still even in the absence of a specific legislation on the subject, it is praise-worthy that under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005[8], all benefits are bestowed on woman living in such kind of arrangement by reason of being covered within the term “domestic relationship” under Section 2(f). If we propose to enact a law to regulate live-in-relationships, though it would grant rights to parties to it but at the same time it would also impose obligations on them.
Couples prefer to choose it only to have no responsibility of any sort, but if it is guided by some law, then it would not be so readily preferred. To consider of enacting a law on the lines of provisions in other countries may not be successful as their relationships are granted sanction mainly to legalize gay relationship. In India, since it would not be socially permissible to have relationship between persons of same sex, the law enacted for them by the countries cannot act as guiding force.
Justice Malimath Committee as well as the Law Commission of India states that if a woman has been in a ‘live in’ relationship for a reasonable period, she should enjoy the legal rights of the wife[9]. On 8th October, this recommendation was accepted by the Maharashtra government.
In a petition between Payal Katara and Superintendent of Nari Niketan, Agra, the Allahabad High Court on 4th March 2002 came up with a bold judgment by stating that anyone, man or woman, could live together even without getting married if they wished[10]. A similar step was taken by the Apex Court on 15th January, 2008 when a Bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and P.Sathasivam leaned in favor of legitimizing a live-in couple.
On 15th December, 2008, there was a debate in the Lok Sabha during question hour, Mr.H.R.Bhardwaj , Hon’ble Union Law Minister while answering to the question related to live-in-relationships said that if live-in- relationships are acceptable by society, then the government can make laws[11]. Laws are made keeping in view societal trends. It is hypothetical to ask a question whether we are contemplating a law to govern live-in relationships. Less than one percent of the people are in such relationships. If a law is enacted, it will only be misused.

Devendra Singh Sai is the student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. He can be reached at [email protected] . The views expressed here are of the authors. 
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[1] Beri B. P., Law of Marriage and Divorce in India, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2nd edition, (1989)
[2] Channa S. M., Family and Marriage, A Critical Appraisal,Cosmo Publication New Delhi, 1st  edition , (1998)
[3] H. Saharay, Family Law in India, Eastern Law House (2011)
[4] H. Saharay, Family Law in India, Eastern Law House (2011)
[5] Beri B. P., Law of Marriage and Divorce in India, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2nd edition, (1989)
[6] Channa S. M., Family and Marriage, A Critical Appraisal,Cosmo Publication New Delhi, 1st  edition , (1998)
[7] H. Saharay, Family Law in India, Eastern Law House (2011)
[8] Channa S. M., Family and Marriage, A Critical Appraisal,Cosmo Publication New Delhi, 1st  edition , (1998)
[9] Beri B. P., Law of Marriage and Divorce in India, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2nd edition, (1989)
[10] Channa S. M., Family and Marriage, A Critical Appraisal,Cosmo Publication New Delhi, 1st  edition , (1998)
[11] H. Saharay, Family Law in India, Eastern Law House (2011)

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