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Live-in-Relationships: The Indian Perspective

Many people imagine that living together before marriage resembles taking a car for a test drive - Saakshi O. Juneja. Bhumika Sharma talks about live-in-relationships which has recently trigerred an imense debate in the Parliament.

India is still looked by the world as a country where marriage occupies a sacramental position both philosophically and practically. The phrase ‘common law wife’ was used to signify legal rights as that of a wife enjoyed by a woman living with a man without marriage. 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 “maitray karars” in which people of two opposite sex would enter into a written agreement to be friends, live together and look after each other. A change is visible in our society from arranged marriages to love marriages and now to ‘live-in-relationships’. If an analysis is made of need of such relationships, avoiding responsibility would emerge as the prime reason. The lack of commitment, the disrespect of social bonds and the lack of tolerance in relationships have given rise to alternative to marriages. 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 behaviours. It contains an element of convenience.”

Live-in-relationships and the common man
When we apply living relationships to an average class of people, we find it less prevalent as this class is scrutinised 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. 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. The cities in India are examples of continuance of faith in marriages on one hand and attraction towards living arrangements on the other.

In most of the cases, people agree to live together so that at a later stage it may take shape of marital relationship. Still inspite of bonafide intentions of the couples taking “out way decision”, most of living arrangements do not take the shape of eternal bonding.

Live-in-relations equal to right relationships or not?
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.

Studies done by experts
From analyzing the relationships, it becomes evident that live-in couples are still largely from professions like entertainment, advertising, modeling and media. Samindara Sawant, clinical psychologist, Disha Counselling 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. Ashis Nandy, fellow with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi is of the opinion that if relationships are becoming more cross-cultural, they are also more contractual now, probably leading to more clear-cut expectations from each other.

According to a survey by The Journal of Marriage and the Family, live in’ relationships are weak commitments. Social geographer Soma Das says that people who opt for live-in relationships do so because they do not believe in marriage. 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.  Living in helps you get a better idea about your partner before marriage.

Provisions with regard to live-in-relationships
Outside India
The law introduced in 1999 in France makes provisions for “civil solidarity pacts” allowing  couples (even of same sex) to enter into a union and be entitled to the same rights as married couples in such areas as income tax, inheritance, housing and social welfare. Couples, who want to enter into such a relationship may sign up before a court clerk and can revoke the contract unilaterally or by bilaterally with a simple declaration, made in writing, which gives the partner three months’ notice.

Article 147, of the Family Code, Philippines provides that when a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership.

In India
No law at present deal with the concept of live-in-relationships and their legality. 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, 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.

Rights of a child born out of a live-in-relationship
Need for a legal provision is felt to secure the future of a child born from a relationship which has not taken the shape of marriage.  The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 gives the status of a legitimate child to every child whether result of void, voidable or valid marriage. So, we don’t require a legal provision to grant legitimacy to the child, but to grant property and maintenance rights.

In case the parties to live-in-relationship decide to move out of it, to secure rights of child whom none of the parents want to keep, there must be a provision that any of them would be responsible to look after the child. To ensure that his rights are actually given, Court may appoint a guardian. The child is entitled to get a share in the property of both the father as well as the mother.

Evaluation of the decision of the Maharashtra government
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. On 8th October, this recommendation was accepted by the Maharashtra government.
Though the government accepted recommendations of Malimath Committee, but have we thought that the same government some time ago prohibited bar dancers. It looks that government has adopted double standards and taken contradictory stands on women’s rights. According to few though live-in relationships are expressions of love but they also deserve legal protection.

Any decision to bring change in Section 125, CrPC with regard to live - in - relationship invites amendments in other laws as well including law of evidence, succession, adoption, bigamy, marriage etc. We must not forget that one enters into living arrangements to effectively deal with a career without any sort of personal obligations of family.

Therefore, if even inspite of no relationship in the eyes of law (marriage), one has to be made liable to pay maintenance after a reasonable time period, aren’t we disturbing the concept of virtual arrangements (existing without tension about other)? It may appear that the decision of Maharashtra Government favours women’s rights, but the consequences may be harsh. We may find a decline in marriages as both would require monetary responsibility, so why not prefer live in relationships. An increase in child abandonment is a possibility when both parents deny any responsibility.

With the weakening of marriage as an institution, there are possibilities that not only would social offences increase but also independence of people would get manifested by indulging in live-in-relationships.

Courts and grant of validity to the live-in-relationships
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. 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 favour of legitimising a live-in couple as they had lived together for 30 years.

Debate in the Lok Sabha
On 15th December, 2008 in the 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. 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.

The last two to three months have been influential in arousing response on the matter of live-in-relationships in India. It should not be denied that our culture does need a legislature to regulate relationships which are likely to grow in number with changes in the ideology of people. The right time has come that efforts should be made to enact a law having clear provisions with regard to the time span required to give status to the relationship, registration and rights of parties and children born out of it.

BHUMIKA SHARMA is a 4th year B.A. LL.B Hons) student at the University Institute of Legal Studies,(School of legal Studies), Shimla.
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