Marriage vs. Live-In Relationships: Unveiling the Legal and Emotional Landscape

The article explores the changing face of marriage and cohabitation in India is examined in this
essay. It explores the legal ramifications of both types of relationships, comparing and
contrasting the well-established rights and obligations of marriage with the scant legal
acceptance of cohabitation. The emotional and social dimensions are also explored, emphasising
how marriage is accepted in society as opposed to the possible stigma associated with
cohabitation. The article recognises how societal standards are evolving, especially in cities
where live-in partnerships are become more prevalent. The legal context is then examined,
describing the ways in which recent court rulings have attempted to give live-in partners—
especially women—some rights and protections under the Domestic Violence Act and CrPC
provisions. The article concludes by analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of both
marriage and live-in relationships, considering factors like commitment, financial security, social
acceptance, and impact on children. Finally, it acknowledges the role of the judiciary in shaping
the legal landscape for live-in relationships in the absence of specific legislation.
Key words: – Marriage, Live-in relationship
The legal and socially acceptable form of a connection between two people is marriage. Because
of the deeper social structure and bonds in our nation, marriage is even more of an institution.
Living together without being married is extremely uncommon and is seen as forbidden.
A live-in relationship, also known as cohabitation, is an arrangement in which two individuals
choose to share a home permanently or over an extended period of time while maintaining a
close emotional and/or sexual relationship. The phrase is most commonly used to refer to
unmarried couples. “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” is one definition of a live-in relationship. The Indian Supreme Court and several
High Courts have timely examined a range of aspects of live-in relationships and have made an
effort to comprehend and explain the phenomenon. In India, marriage is the only relationship
that is recognized as sacred and is presumed to be a licence for sexual relations. Significant shifts
in India’s views on relationships between the sexes, especially in metropolitan areas, have
occurred in recent years. These relationships are viewed differently by the current generation
than by the previous one. Men and women living together under one roof without being officially
married was frowned upon within the framework of our social ideals. In a similar vein,
premarital sex was viewed as extremely immoral. However, the stigmas of premarital sex are
slowly disappearing, and more people are talking about live-in relationships and premarital sex.
India has regarded marriage as a sacred relationship since the time of the Vedic culture. In India,
marriages are consummated in compliance with the provisions of the Special Marriage Act or the
individual religious laws of the involved parties. The legal definition of marriage is an agreement
between a man and a woman to provide for and live with one another. The idea of marriage has
changed over time. Following the official ceremony, marriage is commonly recognised as an
essential civic right. It has legal ramifications and involves several duties and responsibilities
related to succession, property inheritance, and other matters. Marriage therefore includes all of
the custom, exposure, and selection legal criteria as well as the legal consequences that follow
Live-in relationships are very common in many Western countries. A live-in relationship is
characterized as a cohabitation agreement between unmarried individuals who aim to sustain a
lasting bond akin to matrimony. The idea behind a live-in relationship is that potential partners
want to gauge before making a commitment. A live-in relationship is a de facto union in which a
couple shares a room for sleeping without formally becoming married.
Originally, marriage was viewed as a social institution that would prevent males from engaging
in unrestricted polygamy and establish a child’s paternity. Over the years, the State has enacted
rules governing every area of peoples’ lives, and marriage is no exception. In India, the rules
governing marriages are determined by the individual religious beliefs of the partners involved.
The Special Marriage Act of 1954 and the Foreign Marriage Act of 1969, respectively, provide
provisions for interfaith and inter-national weddings. As a result, our laws govern things like the
requirements for a lawful marriage, the reasons for filing for divorce, child and spouse
maintenance, adoption, guardianship, inheritance, and succession. Furthermore, there are some
secular laws that address marriage problems like- Section 125 in the CrPC, Sections 498A of the
IPC, Family Courts Act, 1984 and the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Marriage is a sacrament for both Hindus and Christians, and following the traditions, customs,
and ceremonies of the involved parties—such as exchanging garlands or vows, or performing
Saptapadi—is highly valued. To be considered lawful, these rituals must be performed. Hindu
marriages are thought to have taken on a contractual nature following the adoption of consent as
a prerequisite for marriage. The assertion is, however, debunked since, unlike contracts, Hindu
marriages are only voidable in the absence of agreement. Muslim weddings are based on
contracts, with a focus on offer and acceptance in front of authorised witnesses. A married
couple has the legal right to a conjugal relationship; to deny them that right would be cruel,
particularly if they are young and in excellent health. A spouse who has been abandoned by their
spouse may seek a matrimonial remedy known as Restitution of Conjugal Rights under Sections
9 of the Hindu Marriage Act and 22 of the Special Marriage Act of 1954. Nonetheless, this
seemingly gender-neutral clause is currently being scrutinised by the courts for allegedly
infringing upon people’s autonomy, dignity, and right to privacy.
Though the law is still unclear about whether these Live-in relationships are legitimate, some
rights have been established by examining and changing the laws to prevent the parties from
abusing these kinds of partnerships. According to Indian law, cohabitation between consenting
adults is not prohibited. In the 2006 case of “Lata Singh v. State of U.P1.,” it was decided that
although two consenting individuals of different sexes living together is considered immoral, it is
not illegal. Some legislative highlights from India are given below.

A connection “in the nature of marriage” between two people who live in the same home is
referred to as a domestic relationship under Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
Any relationship between two people who live or have lived together in a shared household for
any length of time and are related by consanguinity, marriage, adoption, or simply by being
friends and family living together as a family unit is considered a domestic relationship.
As because the partners in a live-in relationship live together for an extended period of time and
identify as husband and wife, their relationship bears similarities to marriage. Consequently, a
woman in a live-in relationship may seek protection and maintenance under the Domestic
Violence Act, 2005, as they are covered by this Act. This Act so makes relationships other than
marriage permissible.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution
The fundamental rights to life and personal liberty are protected by Article 21 of the Indian
Constitution. Numerous Supreme Court rulings, such as S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr
2(2010), have established that these rights include the uninterrupted right to cohabit.
Code on Criminal Procedure
The Malimath Committee recommended that the concept of alimony/maintenance under Section
125 be amended to allow women to receive it when it delivered its conclusions in 2009. Because
of this, the Supreme Court decided in the 2009 case of Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State of
Maharashtra and Anr3 that a woman may request maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC
without having to provide proof of marriage, which implies that a woman who lives with her
partner is also entitled to maintenance. This ruling exemplifies the modern and liberal outlook of
our judiciary.
Rights of Children Born Out of Live-In Relationship
2 S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr , AIR 2010 SUPREME COURT 3196, 2010 (5) SCC 600.
3 Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State of Maharashtra and Anr, AIR 2009 (NOC) 808 (BOM.), 2009 CRI. L. J. 889, 2009
(3) ALJ (NOC) 485.
The Supreme Court in the case of Tulsa vs Durghatiya4, when granting a child’s right to property,
held that if the parents of the child had lived together and cohabitated for a significant amount of
time in order for them to be recognised as husband and wife, the relationship could not be one of
“walk in and walk out.” The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Section 16 and the Special Marriage Act,
Section 26, grant legitimacy to offspring of void and voidable marriages, respectively, by stating
that offspring of a null and void marriage or one in which a decree of nullity is granted, will be
considered legitimate or deemed legitimate. However, the property of the parents alone is
covered by the right of inheritance of such children, as stated in Subsection (3) of the same Act.
As a result, if their parents were not lawfully married, then these children do not enjoy
coparcenary rights over the assets of the Hindu undivided family (HUF).
Challenges in Live-in relationship
In Indian society, it is not common for couples to live together, and they may encounter social
criticism and shame from friends, family, and the community. Moreover, couples who live
together are not granted the same legal recognition and privileges as married couples. In the
event of a split, they might not be eligible for maintenance, inheritance, or property rights.
Live-in couples may experience financial instability as a result of their lack of legal protection
and acknowledgment. They might not be able to legally claim their partner’s assets or property in
the event of a split. Women who live together may be more susceptible to domestic abuse and
may not have any legal safeguards against it. Like married couples, live-in couples are not
eligible for social security benefits like health insurance, pensions, or other benefits. In India, a
person’s family frequently has a big influence on their personal lives. Living together could put
pressure on a couple to follow social conventions or get married from their families.
Unlike cohabitation, marriage is a long-term acceptance of responsibility where the partners
commit to being devoted to one another regardless of the conditions and advantages. This
promotes self-assurance and personal security. The lovers become increasingly committed to one another and see their sexual relationship as exclusive. Since divorce is unlikely to occur between
their parents, children form good emotional ties. Because of the different bond that a single
parent has with their child, a youngster who lives without either parent is also more likely to be
abused. They might begin misbehaving and doing poorly in school, which could negatively
affect them in the long run. Additionally, because they usually stick to a shared spending budget,
married couples are in better financial conditions than cohabiting ones. Furthermore, those who
are not married often might not be concerned about health issues in a partnership and, as a result,
might be more prone to illness. They are more susceptible to mortality than married couples.
Married individuals have close social relationships to their churches and neighbours, which is
crucial for (emotional) support. This permission cannot be used by partners who are not married.
In a country like India, respect for human rights is fundamental to a democratic system.
Everyone has the right to choose the person they wish to marry and have a family with, and to
spend the rest of their life together. Marriage, with all its challenges, is supposed to cultivate a
sense of commitment. While matrimony does not guarantee permanent happiness, it does provide
security and social standing. When the circumstances surrounding a live-in relationship shift,
individual rights and privacy are at risk. It is truly feared that eventually people may prefer this
practice over regular marriage, even though there may not be many supporters of it. In the lack
of legislation, the Indian judiciary has played a crucial role by remaining impartial and using its
knowledge of the problems surrounding cohabitation to make a substantial contribution. While
cohabitation may seem completely new and exciting, there will probably be a lot of intricate
problems. The existing state of affairs will encourage live-in partnerships, which will cause
issues like bigamy and multiple-partner relationships, which will tear apart the social fabric of
our country. The women involved in these partnerships do not possess the status of spouses and
are not held in high regard by society. Women will be more vulnerable to exploitation because
there is no legislation. Based on all available evidence, it appears that the concept and legal
acceptance of cohabitation in our nation have developed over time, with numerous rulings from
the esteemed Supreme Court and the High Court’s having a pivotal role. Public perception of
marriage is one of spiritual connection acknowledged and greatly valued. In order to end social
taboos and enable couples to continue living amicably and with equal respect in the community,
the courts have acted as regulators.

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Written by- Shreyasi Ghatak

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