India, with its rich tapestry of cultures and traditions, serves as a unique melting pot where people from various backgrounds coexist harmoniously. Amidst this diversity, the institution of marriage has always held a central place, revered and respected across communities. Historically, marriage in Hindu culture, for instance, was not just a union of two individuals but a sacred commitment, seen as fulfilling ancestral duties and obligations. However, as society has evolved, so has the perception of marriage. In contemporary times, the sanctity of marriage is facing challenges, with the concept of Live-In Relationships emerging as an alternative lifestyle choice. Live-in relationships, wherein couples share a home and their lives without the formalities of marriage, gained popularity as a way to test compatibility before committing to marriage. Initially, this approach was considered a pragmatic step, allowing partners to understand each other better. Yet, as Live-In Relationships became more prevalent, a shift in societal attitudes occurred. For some, it became a way to bypass the complexities associated with marriage, such as legal obligations and societal expectations.
However, this trend has raised ethical and moral concerns, especially in a society like India, which places significant importance on traditional values and cultural norms. The clash between modern ideals of individual freedom and traditional societal expectations is evident in the debate surrounding Live-In Relationships. While many countries internationally have recognized and legalized such arrangements, India grapples with the balance between personal choices and societal norms. There is no specific law regulating Live-In Relationships in India; however, the concept has evolved through judicial pronouncements.
Recently, On September 9, 2023, The Division bench of the Allahabad High Court, in its verdict, held that “Life is not a bed of roses. It examines every couple on the ground of hard and rough realities. Our experience shows, that such type of relationship often result in timepass, temporary and fragile and thus these types of relationships are more of infatuation against the opposite sex, instead of sincerity.” This verdict sparked a debate on live-in relationships in India. This debate between societal norms and personal choice reflects the ongoing evolution of Indian society and its intricate relationship with the concept of marriage.
Judicial Evolution of Live-In Relationships
Judicial rulings have played a significant role in shaping Indian law, alongside legislative actions. The judiciary has been pivotal in Indian jurisprudence, often reflecting public opinion. This has been achieved by upholding established laws and occasionally overturning or interpreting them under specific circumstances. Concerning cohabitation, the judiciary has addressed a variety of issues, challenging prevailing social perceptions and determining the legality of such partnerships. Questions about the nature of these relationships, the rights and obligations they confer on individuals and their children, and the treatment of property owned by those involved have been explored.
In 2001, the Allahabad High Court made a crucial observation regarding the legality of cohabitation. It affirmed that the decision to live together is a matter of personal choice, protected by law. Despite societal judgments deeming such relationships immoral, the law cannot restrict this freedom. Subsequent rulings, including Guljar Khan, Shahjahan Khan, Lata Singh, and Gaytri v Rajasthan, reinforced this viewpoint.
In the case of S. Khushboo vs. Kanniammal & anr, the Supreme Court further upheld this perspective, anchoring it within the fundamental right to life and liberty, which forms the cornerstone of Indian family law. The ambiguity arises when determining the nature of these relationships after confirming their legality. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Badri Prasad that a couple living together for an extended period could be considered married unless evidence to the contrary was provided. Further, the case of SPS Balasubramanyam validated this presumption. However, specific parameters, aside from duration, remain unexplored.
The landmark case of Indra Sarma challenged the conventional marriage-not-marriage binary. This case led to the emergence of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005, which recognised relationships “in the nature of marriage.” This legislation acknowledged a middle ground between marriage and unmarried partnerships. Factors such as the duration of the relationship, shared living arrangements, financial interdependence, cohabitation, sexual involvement, children, social behaviour, and the couple’s intentions were considered. However, rather than establishing rigid criteria, this case emphasized the need for relevant laws to be enacted by the legislature to define such relationships clearly.
The Apex Court further introduced more conditions in the case of Velusamy v. Patchaiammal, when it was stated that individuals in these kinds of relationships had to meet certain requirements, including being of marriageable age, legally eligible to marry, living together for an extended period of time, and projecting the same social image as a married couple.
So far as Indian jurisprudence is concerned, it appears that live-in partnerships have advanced significantly. It is now widely acknowledged as an issue of individual rights, even though its legality was formerly called into question. It is evident that comprehensive law is required to provide a definitive response to the subject, even while the nature of live-in partnerships is uncertain.
Women and Children’s Rights in Live-In Relationships
In traditional marriages, wives have the right to receive maintenance after separation or divorce. Historically, such privileges were not extended to partners in live-in relationships. However, the Malimath Committee on Criminal Justice Reform recommended amending §125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to categorize live-in partners as “wives” for the purpose of support payments. In response, the Supreme Court removed the requirement for a woman to be married to be eligible for maintenance, thereby including women in live-in relationships under this provision. Since live-in relationships are not recognized by personal law as family-establishing entities, partners in these relationships do not have inheritance rights, especially concerning ancestral property. To safeguard the rights of women in cohabiting relationships, the judiciary assumed this responsibility. It’s important to note that the ability to inherit property applies to the partner’s personal assets and not ancestral property.
The legitimacy of children born into live-in partnerships has been a matter of contention. It has been established that children born into long-term live-in relationships, resembling marriages, will be considered legitimate offspring and inherit their parents’ personal property in the same manner as they would inherit each other’s property. Under Hindu law, however, these children might be considered illegitimate and are entitled to inherit as specified in §16 of the Hindu Succession Act. According to Section 125 of the IPC, children born within live-in partnerships have the same rights as their mothers regarding support. The courts have affirmed this right, emphasizing it in the same context as the discussion about maintenance for the women involved in these partnerships.
Additionally, because live-in relationships can sometimes be classified as those in the nature of marriage under the PWFDVA, they are considered domestic relationships for the purposes of the act, and the women involved benefit from the protection against abuse and violence that these relationships provide.
Therefore, it is evident that women in live-in relationships and their offspring in India have been granted several rights and safeguards. Courts have frequently intervened to ensure their well-being, especially in cases where legislative provisions have been inadequate
Considering the popularity that has led to a sharp increase in the number of live-in relationships in Indian culture, the issue of live-in relationships is not appropriately addressed in India due to a lack of suitable legislation. Legislation is required to deal with this issue properly. In our culture, legislation is necessary to handle this matter appropriately. Our civilization must become adaptable to this novel idea of coexisting with the shifting demands of the community. For live-in relationships to become widely accepted as part of our social norms and to become legal in India, the mindset of our quickly growing society needs to be adjusted. Laws evolve or change in a similar way as society does.
The Indian judiciary is working to make unmarried couples’ relationships more legally compliant, but this is not urgently needed, as it could result in more discrepancies. Instead, separate legislation allowing for live-in relationships between couples is necessary. Unmarried couples and their relationships are broadly not recognized under Indian law. In societies where premarital sex is frowned upon, acknowledging a behaviour such as living together is a significant first step in the right direction.
 Anchal Rajbhar And Another vs. State Of U.P, 2023.
Gaytri and Another v. State of Rajasthan, 2022 LiveLaw (Raj) 250.
 Rohit Ray, Evolution Of The Live-In Relationship In India Vis-A-Vis Personal Law, LIVE LAW (Oct. 28, 2023, 06:10 PM), https://www.livelaw.in/columns/evolution-of-the-live-in-relationship-in-india-vis-a-vis-personal-law-218948?infinitescroll=1.
Tulsa & others vs Durghatiya and others ((4) SCC 520); Madan Mohan Singh v. Rajni Kant, (2010) 9 SCC 209; Bharatha Matha v. Vijeya Renganathan, (2010) 11 SCC 483.
 Hindu Succession Act, 1956, §16.
Kushal Singla, Live In Relationship and Legitimacy of Children : Judicial Attitude, IJLLJS (Oct. 28, 2023, 06:10 pm), https://ijlljs.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/live-in-relationship.pdf.
This article is written and submitted by Bhumika Grover during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Bhumika is a BA.LLB 2nd Year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.