Rights of the Woman in Live-in-relationship

What is live-in-relationship?

Live-in-relationship is an arrangement in which an unmarried heterosexual couple lives together in a long-time relationship that resembles a marriage. It is nothing but cohabitation.

No marriage law recognises live-in-relationship. Therefore live-in-relationship is not a legally valid form of marriage. It is an informal marriage. If has no legally recognised marriage ceremony. It is a relationship in the nature of marriage. It is purely an arrangement between parties unlike a legal marriage.

Once a party to such a live-in-relationship determines not to live in the relationship, then the relationship will come to an end. To break such a relationship no court order is required as in a marriage.

A man and a woman living together is not a crime

The SC, in 2010 in Kushboo v Kanniammal & Another, held that a live-in-relationship in which a man and a woman living together is part of their right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it is not a criminal offence. There is no law in India which prohibits premarital sex.

It is a relationship in the nature of marriage

The Supreme Court (SC), in D Velusamy v D Patchaiammal [(2010) 10 SCC 469], declared that a live-in-relationship is a domestic relationship in the nature of marriage as defined in Section 2(f) of the Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act) and such a domestic relationship requires no formal marriage to be considered equivalent to a marriage.

In this case the SC clarified that not all live-in-relationship will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage. Merely spending a weekend together, “a one night stand”,  where the man has a “keep” for sexual purposes would not qualify for protection under DV Act .

The court held that in live-in-relationship, the parties must hold themselves out to the society as being akin to spouses, they must be of legal age to marry, they must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, and they must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time. In addition, they must live together in a shared household as defined in Section 2(s) of the D V Act.

Shared household

The shared household, as defined in the DV act, means “a household where the person aggrieved lives or at any stage has lived in a domestic relationship either singly or along with the respondent and includes such a household whether owned or tenanted either jointly by the aggrieved person and the respondent, or owned or tenanted by either of them in respect of which either the aggrieved person or the respondent or both jointly or singly have any right, title, interest or equity and includes such a household which may belong to the joint family of which the respondent is a member, irrespective of whether the respondent or the aggrieved person has any right, title or interest in the shared household”.

Distinction between marriage & live-in relationship

In Indra Sarma v VKV Sarma (AIR 2014 SC 309), the SC held that a woman knowingly keeping live-in-relationship with a man who already has a legally wedded wife and two children, then that relationship is not one in the nature of marriage under the DV Act.

The SC then described that the expression “relationship in the nature of marriage” means a relationship which has some inherent or essential characteristics of a marriage though not a legally recognized marriage.

The main distinction is that a relationship of marriage continues, notwithstanding the fact that there are differences of opinions, marital unrest etc., even if they are not sharing a shared household, based on law. But live-in-relationship is purely an arrangement between the parties unlike, a legal marriage. Once a party to a live-in- relationship determines that he/she does not wish to live in such a relationship, that relationship comes to an end.

Further, in a relationship in the nature of marriage, the party asserting the existence of the relationship, at any stage or at any point of time, must positively prove the existence of the identifying characteristics of that relationship, since the legislature has used the expression “in the nature of”.

Domestic relationship  defined

The domestic relationship means, inter alia, a relationship between two persons who live or have lived together at such point of time in a shared household, through a relationship in the nature of marriage.

Relationship in the nature of marriage

The expression “relationship in the nature of marriage” is also described as defacto relationship, marriage like relationship, cohabitation, couple relationship, meretricious relationship (now known as committed intimate relationship) etc.

Staying with a concubine is not live-in-relationship

The SC reaffirms in Indra Sarma case that the generic proposition laid down by the Privy Council in Andrahennedige Dinohamy v. Wiketunge Liyanapatabendage Balshamy, AIR 1927 PC 185, that where a man and a woman are proved to have lived together as husband and wife, the law presumes that they are living together in consequence of a valid marriage.

Therefore, a person living with a concubine is not in a live-in-relationship. A concubine cannot maintain a relationship in the nature of marriage because such a relationship will not have exclusivity and will not be monogamous in character.

The continuous cohabitation of man and woman as husband and wife may raise the presumption of marriage, even though it is a rebuttable presumption. Polygamy or a relationship by way of a bigamous marriage cannot be said to be a relationship in the nature of marriage. Therefore, all live-in- relationships are not relationships in the nature of marriage.

SC Guidelines to identify a live-in-relationship

The SC in Indra Sarma case culled out some guidelines to test a live-in relationship will fall within the expression relationship in the nature of marriage. The guidelines, of course, are not exhaustive, but will definitely give some insight into such relationships.

Duration of period of relationship

Section 2(f) of the DV Act has used the expression “at any point of time”, which means a reasonable period of time to maintain and continue a relationship which may vary from case to case, depending upon the situation.

Shared household

The expression has been defined under Section 2(s) of the DV Act and, hence, need no further elaboration.

Pooling of Resources & Financial Arrangements

Supporting each other, or any one of them, financially, sharing bank accounts, acquiring immovable properties in joint names or in the name of the woman, long term investments in business, shares in separate and joint names, so as to have a long-standing relationship, may be a guiding factor.

Domestic Arrangements

Entrusting the responsibility, especially on the woman to run the home, do the household activities like cleaning, cooking, maintaining or upkeeping the house, etc. is an indication of a relationship in the nature of marriage.

Sexual Relationship

Marriage like relationship refers to sexual relationship, not just for pleasure, but for emotional and intimate relationship, for procreation of children, so as to give emotional support, companionship and also material affection, caring etc.


Having children is a strong indication of a relationship in the nature of marriage. Parties, therefore, intend to have a long-standing relationship. Sharing the responsibility for bringing up and supporting them is also a strong indication.

Socialization in Public

Holding out to the public and socializing with friends, relations and others, as if they are husband and wife is a strong circumstance to hold the relationship is in the nature of marriage.

Intention and conduct of the parties

Common intention of parties as to what their relationship is to be and to involve, and as to their respective roles and responsibilities, primarily determines the nature of that relationship.

Property rights of children born in live-in-relationship

The SC in Tulsa & Others v Durghatiya & Others held that a child born out of a relationship akin to marriage would be considered as a legitimate child. The essential prerequisite for it is that the parents must have lived under the same roof and cohabited for a significant period in a relationship equivalent to marriage. Continuous co-habitation of a person and woman as husband and wife and their treatment as such for a number of years may raise the presumption of marriage.

In Bharatha Matha & Another v R. Vijaya Renganathan & Others, the SC declared legitimacy to a child born out of a live-in relationship and held that he might be allowed to inherit the property of the parents. But it was held that such a child does not have any claim upon Hindu ancestral coparcenary property.

Live in relationships are of two kinds

Live-in-relationships can be of different shades. Some of them are in the nature of marriage but some are not.

It is the facts and the circumstances relating to each relationship that make a difference.  Hence it is very difficult to define what makes a legally valid live-in-relationship that is akin to marriage. The protection of law is can be extended to the legally valid live-in-relationships alone.

The SC consistently recognised live-in-relationships and provided protective orders in accordance with DV Act in every genuine case. But high courts are not very consistent in their approach towards live-in-relationship.

The concept of live-in-relationship is increasingly emerging as a viable alternative to marriage in cities and urban areas.