In a traditional society like India, where marriage is revered as a sacred bond, the idea of live-in relationships is not widely accepted. This concept is seen as more prevalent in urban areas, often labeled as an ‘urban-elite concept,’ while rural India tends to hold conservative views. The legal status is not explicitly defined, creating uncertainty as legislators have yet to establish clear rules for these modern relationships, caught between old traditions and new-age practices.

Live-In relationships, influenced by Western cultures, face strong criticism in India where they are perceived as a challenge to traditional marriage values. Cohabiting without marriage is often viewed as indicative of bad character and poor upbringing, leading unmarried couples to keep such arrangements secret to avoid societal shame. This notion is particularly unacceptable in rural India, where parents may refuse entry to their children if they discover they were living with someone of the opposite gender before marriage. As young adults move away from parental control, they seek a life free from familiar restrictions, sometimes engaging in activities frowned upon by society, with live-in relationships being one such example.

Marriage and Live-In relationships, though connected, differ significantly. Marriage is celebrated openly in society, cherished for the emotions it involves among parents and families. On the contrary, Live-In relationships are often kept private due to societal judgment, seen by some as a threat to Indian family traditions. Despite this perception, there are individuals who see Live-In relationships as a valuable stage before marriage. It serves as a period for unmarried couples to understand each other better and address potential issues they might face after marriage. Couples may opt for a live-in arrangement to test compatibility, especially regarding financial matters and physical intimacy, providing clarity before committing to marriage.

Live-in relationships face societal disapproval, with many perceiving them as morally wrong. The act of cohabitation before marriage, particularly involving intimacy, draws criticism, especially from fundamentalist groups. In the conservative landscape of Indian society, pre-marital sex is a significant taboo, rarely openly discussed, as it challenges societal ethics. However, it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court, In the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P., asserted that, despite being considered unethical, engaging in such relationships cannot be deemed illegal.

Does Live-in Relationship Is Valid In India?

Live-in relationships are not legally recognized as a valid union in India. Indian law does not provide any specific legislation that governs live-in relationships or provides legal recognition to such relationships.

As per Indian law, marriage is the only legal union that is recognized, and couples in a live-in relationship are not entitled to the same legal rights and protection as married couples. This lack of legal recognition and protection for live-in relationships can create challenges for couples, especially in case of separation or disputes related to property and assets.

Therefore, while live-in relationships are not legally recognized as a valid union in India, the Supreme Court of India has provided some legal protection to individuals in such relationships under certain circumstances. Nonetheless, it is essential to note that the legal protection for individuals in live-in relationships in India is limited compared to the legal rights and protection provided to married couples.

  • In India, the concept of live-in relationships has been given certain legal protection through various judgments of the Supreme Court and High Courts. For instance, in the case of Indra Sarma vs. V.K.V. Sarma, the Supreme Court held that a live-in relationship is akin to a marital relationship and is protected under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The court also held that a woman in a live-in relationship is entitled to maintenance if the man deserts her or refuses to maintain her.
  • Similarly, In India, being in a Live-In relationship doesn’t involve any religious ceremony like marriage, making it distinct from a married bond. However, a significant legal development came from the Supreme Court’s D.Velusamy vs. D.Patchaiammal case, which stated that a long-term Live-In relationship could be recognized as a valid marriage under specific circumstances. The court ruled that women in such relationships are entitled to maintenance after separation. Unlike marriages governed by laws like The Hindu Marriage Act, The Hindu Succession Act, and The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, Live-In relationships lack provisions for divorce and property-sharing between partners. Women in Live-In relationships have the right to seek maintenance, but adoption of children is not allowed for such couples. The Supreme Court’s judgments highlight both similarities and differences between marriages and Live-In relationships in India.

Legal Framework For Live-in Relationship in India
There is no specific provision for live-in relationships under Indian law. However, certain laws and judgments of the courts have recognized the rights of couples in live-in relationships and provided legal protection to them.

Some of the provisions that relate to live-in relationships in India are:

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955:
The Act provides for the registration of marriages and also recognizes the right of a woman to maintenance from her husband in case of separation. While it does not recognize live-in relationships as a valid union, the courts have held that a woman in a live-in relationship can claim maintenance under the Act if she is able to prove that the relationship is akin to a marital relationship.

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 was designed to regulate marital rights for specific religions and manage laws governing couples. Anticipating the concept of Live-In relationships wasn’t considered when the act was formulated, resulting in the absence of specific laws addressing this scenario. The Indian Parliament is yet to pass laws related to Live-In relationships. However, the Supreme Court, in the case of “Khushboo vs Kanniammal, delivered a landmark judgment affirming that Article 21 of the Constitution, providing the Right to Life and Liberty, includes the Right to Cohabit without societal interference. This judgment serves as a safeguard for those choosing Live-In relationships, protecting them from legal actions, societal repercussions, and familial objections. However, it’s crucial to note that the Supreme Court clarified that the rights and property-sharing privileges granted to married couples do not extend to live-in couples.
 Domestic Violence Act, 2005:
The Domestic Violence Act provides protection to women in domestic relationships, including those in live-in relationships, against violence and abuse. The act recognizes live-in relationships as a relationship in the nature of marriage and provides protection to women in such relationships.

The Supreme Court ruled in Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma that Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 will apply to protect women in live-in relationships even in the absence of any laws governing the legal activities involved.
 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Rules, 2006:
The rules made under the Domestic Violence Act provide for the procedure for the application for protection orders, residence orders, and monetary reliefs by women in live-in relationships.
 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act, 2013:
This amendment to the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, includes “relationship in the nature of marriage” within the definition of “domestic relationship.” This includes live-in relationships, and women in such relationships are entitled to protection under the Act.
 Indian Penal Code:
The Indian Penal Code provides for criminal liability for offences like rape, adultery, and bigamy, which can also be applicable in cases of live-in relationships.

In summary, live-in relationships have become more common in India, and though there’s no specific law for them, courts recognize and protect individuals through judgments. It’s established that living together without marriage isn’t illegal or immoral, and women in such relationships have rights similar to legally married wives. Yet, challenges like property rights, child custody, and societal stigma persist. It’s crucial for the government and society to acknowledge live-in relationships as valid and provide better legal protection. In essence, the legal framework for live-in relationships in India is still developing, requiring more comprehensive laws to address the issues faced by couples in such relationships.

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