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Live-in Relationship: Critical Assessment with regards to the stand of Indian Judiciary & Indian Laws

Things are changing fast and couples have started living together in a single household even without being married. Such relationship may be brief or may continue for a considerable period of time. If the cohabitation continues for a prolonged period, it is termed live-in relationship. Live-in relationship may be defined as “Continuous cohabitation for a significant period of time, between partners who are not married to each other in a legally acceptable way and are sharing a common household.”

Live-in relationship, that is, living together as couple without being married to each other in a legally accepted way, is considered a taboo in India. But recently, such relationships are being increasingly common due to a variety of reasons. In absence of any specific legislation, rules, or customs on the subject, the Supreme Court has issued certain guidelines in its judgment for regulating such relationships.


The Punjab and Haryana High Court has said live-in-relationships are morally and socially unacceptable, an observation which runs contrary to the Supreme Court stand recognizing them. The High Court made the observation while dismissing a petition filed by a runaway couple seeking protection. In their petition, Gulza Kumari (19) and Gurwinder Singh (22) said they were living together and intended to get married shortly. They apprehended danger to their lives from Kumari’s parents. In his May 11 order, Justice H S Madaan said, As a matter of fact, the petitioners in the garb of filing the present petition are seeking seal of approval on their live-in-relationship, which is morally and socially not acceptable and no protection order in the petition can be passed. The petition was dismissed.

“It concerns life and liberty:” Supreme Court orders protection to couple in live-in relationship after Punjab & Haryana High Court denied relief

A Division Bench comprising Justices Navin Sinha and Justice Ajay Rastogi directed that since the issue is one affecting life and liberty, police should act expeditiously in view of the threats faced by the couple. The Supreme Court of India has ordered police to grant protection to a couple in live-in relationship who were denied relief by the Punjab & Haryana High Court (Gurwinder Singh v. State of Punjab).

A three-judge bench of the apex court held in May 2018 that an adult couple had the right to live together even without marriage. It had made this clear while asserting that a 20-year-old Kerala woman, whose marriage had been annulled, could choose whom she wanted to live with.

The apex court had also referred to its decision in Lata Singh v. the State of UP. That judgment had said a live-in relationship between two consenting adults did not amount to any offence, with the obvious exception of adultery, even though it may be perceived as immoral. A major girl is free to marry anyone she likes or “live with anyone she likes”. Notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy. Morality and criminality are not co-extensive, the court said.

Live-in relationship between two consenting adults is not considered illegal and if the couple present themselves to the society as husband and wife and live together for a significant period of time, the relationship is considered to be a relationship “in the nature of marriage” under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Consequently, the female partner is entitled to claim alimony under its provisions. Children born out of such relationships are considered legitimate and entitled to get share in the self-acquired property of their parents, though they are not entitled for a coparcener share in the Hindu undivided family property.

Legality of Live-In Relationships:

  • As early as 1978, in Badri Prasad V. Deputy Director Consolidation, observation was made that “If man and woman who live as husband and wife in society are compelled to prove, after half-a-century of wedlock by eye-witness evidence that they were validly married fifty years earlier, few will succeed. A strong presumption arises in favor of wed-lock where the partners have lived together for a long spell as husband and wife. Although the presumption is rebuttable, a heavy burden lies on him who seeks to deprive the relationship of its legal origin. Law leans in favour of legitimacy and frowns upon bastardy.”
  • SPS Balasubramanian V. Suruttayan, (AIR 1992 SC 756) in which it was observed that where a man and a woman live together as husband and wife for long time, presumption under the law would be in favor of their being legally married to each other unless proved to the contrary and children born out of such live-in relationship would be entitled for inheritance in the property of the parents.
  • Live-in relationship between consenting adults is not considered illegal under the Indian law. In 2006, in the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P, it was held that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of opposite sex, though perceived as immoral, does not amount to any offence under the law.
  • In 2010, Khushboo v. Kanaimmal and another, Supreme Court observed “Though the concept of live-in relationship is considered immoral by the society, but is definitely not illegal in the eyes of the law. Living together is a right to life and therefore it cannot be held illegal.”
  • If such relationship is only for sexual reasons, neither of the partners can claim benefits of a legal marriage. Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma (15 SCC 755) was another landmark case on the matter of live-in relationship in which implications of different types of relationships were examined.

To get recognized as “in the nature of marriage,” certain conditions were set by the Supreme Court in D. Velusamy and D. Patchaimal (5 SCC 600)

  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.

Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma Supreme Court made following observations in this regards:

  • Such relationship may endure for a long time and can result in a pattern of dependency and vulnerability, and increasing number of such relationships calls for adequate and effective protection, especially to the woman and children born out of that live-in-relationship.
  • Legislature, of course, cannot promote premarital sex, though, at times, such relationships are intensively personal and people may express their opinion, for and against.
  • Thus, the Parliament has to ponder over these issues, bring in proper legislation, or make a proper amendment of the Act, so that women and the children born out of such kinds of relationships are protected, though such relationship might not be a relationship in the nature of a marriage.

Sections 494 and 495 of the IPC, prohibits any marriage of person within the lifetime of her/his husband or wife and even makes it a punishable offence, unless it is permitted by the personal law of the concerned person. Therefore, a live-in relationship of a married man with a woman or of a married woman with a man cannot be recognized as in the “nature of marriage” as it is expressly prohibited by law.

Grant of Alimony and Application of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005:

Section 125 of the Cr. P.C. provides for claiming maintenance by wives, children, and parents from a person on which they are dependent and are unable to maintain themselves. Though the amendment was not incorporated in the Cr. P.C., such relationships were brought into ambit of domestic relationship. Section 2(f) of Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PDV Act, 2005) defines domestic relationship as “a relationship between two persons who live or have lived together, at any point of time, in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.” According to this definition, live-in relationships which are in a nature of marriage, that is, the couples are living for a long period of time and presenting themselves as husband and wife come under the ambit of the PDV Act, 2005. Therefore, claiming maintenance under the Section 125 of the Cr. P.C is well within the rights of dependent children born out of the live-in relationships, as the section itself expressly mentions “both legitimate and illegitimate child.” In the matter of deciding for the guardianship, mother is regarded as the natural guardian for such children.

Therefore, the woman in live-in relationship can take protection under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and can claim for maintenance also (D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal).

Supreme Court in the case of Lalita Toppo v. State of Jharkhand held that the victim, that is, the estranged wife or the live-in partner would be entitled relief under the Act in a shared household.

Ajay Bhardwaj v. Jyotsna, the court awarded alimony under the PDV Act, 2005 to a woman in a live-in relationship. But it is only the woman who can claim maintenance under the PDV Act, 2005. Relief under the PDV Act, 2005 is not available to men in live-in relationships.

As per Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Section 26 of the Special Marriage Act:

  • right of inheritance of such children is limited to the property of the parents only
  • legitimacy to children born out of void and voidable marriages by providing that children born out of marriage, which is null and void or where a decree of nullity is granted in respect of voidable marriage, shall be legitimate or deemed to be legitimate, respectively.


Social values and norms have changed for the new generation. Live-in relationships provide the couples a greater opportunity to know each other better together with a freedom to end the relationship as per their wish. But they have to face many social and legal hurdles. Such relationship puts women often in a disadvantageous position. The Supreme Court has issued guidelines for regulating such relationships and also for protecting the rights of women involved in the relationship and children born out of it.

Curated by: Monika Thakkar [B.A.LL.B. (Hons.); LL.M. (Business Laws)]

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