Team SoOLEGAL 5 Jul 2023



A live-in relationship is a type of partnership where two individuals live together without being married. This concept is widely accepted and legalized in many countries across the globe. The highest court of law has recognized that the right to live together for a man and a woman in love is a fundamental aspect of the right to life. Therefore, living in a live-in relationship is no longer considered a criminal offense. In 2003, the Malimath Committee made significant recommendations, particularly focusing on the term "wife" and treating a woman in a live-in relationship similarly to a wife. Subsequently, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) of 2005 provided legal recognition to relationships outside of marriage by encompassing them under the category of relationships "in the nature of marriage". Efforts have been made to bring live-in relationships under the purview of various laws concerning domestic violence, maintenance, property, and the legal status of children, in order to regulate the dynamics of this new social arrangement.

Legality and Recognition of Live-in Relationships in India

Living in a relationship without being formally married is not considered a crime in India. The Supreme Court has made several judgments stating that if a man and a woman live together as a married couple, even if they are not legally married but have a long-term relationship and children, they will be presumed to be married, and the same laws that apply to married couples will be applicable to them.

The concept of a live-in relationship was recognized by the Allahabad High Court in the Payal Sharma v. Nari Niketan case, where it was stated that although society may consider it immoral, it is not illegal for a man and a woman to live together without getting married. The Supreme Court, in the S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & anr case, also affirmed that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults cannot be considered an offense, and there are no laws in place that prohibit live-in relationships or pre-marital sex.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and personal liberty as a fundamental right, and the court has ruled that individuals in a live-in relationship without formal marriage are not considered criminals. Therefore, live-in relationships are legally recognized in India.

PWDVA was the first legislation in India to recognize and provide rights and protection to females who are in live-in relationships. Even if they are not legally married, the Act acknowledges their relationship and treats it as a domestic relationship.

 The Act does not explicitly define a live-in relationship but leaves it to the interpretation of the courts. Currently, the provisions of the PWDVA validate individuals in live-in relationships and grant women certain fundamental rights to protect themselves from abusive situations such as fraudulent marriages or bigamous relationships.

To establish the legality of a relationship "like marriage" under PWDVA, certain essential criteria were outlined by the Supreme Court in the cases of D Patchaiammal v. D Velusamy and Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma. Women in such relationships must fulfill specific criteria to benefit under the PWDVA, including:

·       Age: The couple involved must be of legal age to marry according to Indian law. In the Payal Katara v. Superintendent Nari Niketan Kandri Vihar Agra and Ors. case, the Allahabad High Court emphasized that a woman of about 21 years of age, being a major, has the right to live with anyone, even without being married. However, a recent judgement by the Kerala High Court in Nandakumar v. the State of Kerala held that an adult couple can be in a live-in relationship even if the man's age is below 21, the legal age for marriage.

·       A significant period: The expression "at any point of time" mentioned in Section 2(f) of the PWDVA implies a reasonable period during which the relationship is maintained and continues. The duration may vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case. It is important to demonstrate sincerity and seriousness in the relationship. Short-term or casual relationships, such as one-night stands or week-long affairs, would not fall under the scope of a domestic relationship.

·       Voluntary cohabitation: The couple must have made an independent decision with a common intention to cohabit. This includes supporting each other, sharing responsibilities, making financial arrangements, and engaging in public socialization to demonstrate the loyalty and endurance of the relationship. If a man keeps a woman solely for sexual reasons or as a maid/slave while providing financial support, it would not be considered a relationship in the nature of marriage or equivalent to marriage.

In the landmark case of Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation, the Supreme Court recognized live-in relationships for the first time and granted legal validity to a fifty-year live-in relationship between a couple. Justice Krishna Iyer stated that a strong presumption of marriage arises when partners have lived together for a significant period as husband and wife. While the presumption can be rebutted, the burden of proof lies on the person seeking to challenge the legal status of the relationship.

Legal Rights and Maintenance Entitlements in Live-in Relationships

a.      Legal status: The Supreme Court ruling in Tulsa v. Durghatiya established that children born out of a live-in relationship are no longer considered illegitimate. For this to apply, the parents must have lived together and cohabited for a significant period, demonstrating their seriousness and sincerity in the relationship.

In S.P.S. Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan, the Supreme Court recognized the legitimacy of children born out of live-in relationships. The court stated that if a man and woman live together and cohabit for a substantial period, there is a presumption that they are married, and their children are not illegitimate. The court also referred to Article 39(f) of the Indian Constitution, which directs policies to protect the rights and development of children.

b. Property rights: In the case of Revanasiddappa v. Mallikarjun, the Supreme Court recognized the rights of four children born out of a live-in relationship as legal heirs, ensuring their inheritance. Similarly, in Bharatha Matha v. R. Vijaya Renganathan, the Supreme Court held that a child born out of a live-in relationship can inherit the property of their parents. However, the child does not have any claim over Hindu ancestral coparcenary property.

c. Maintenance: The Malimath Committee, established in 2000 to propose reforms to the criminal justice system, recommended amending Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to extend maintenance rights to women who have lived with a man similar to a wife for a significant period. However, certain criteria need to be met under the PWDVA to avail of maintenance rights, including the right age, mutual and independent consent, a significant period of cohabitation, and social status. Short-term relationships or those based solely on sexual desire are not considered sincere relationships.

In Chanmuniya v. Chanmuniya Kumar Singh Kushwaha, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that only legally married women can claim maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC. The court held that women in live-in relationships are entitled to the same claims and reliefs as legally wedded wives under Section 26 of the PWDVA.

In Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State of Maharashtra and Others, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman in a live-in relationship can claim maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC without the strict requirement of proving marriage. The court emphasized the need to extend the scope of Section 2(f) of the PWDVA to provide protection to dependent, poor, and illiterate individuals and their children.


Live-in relationships are legally recognized in India, and the Supreme Court has made significant judgments affirming the rights and protection of individuals in such relationships. PWDVA provides legal recognition to relationships "in the nature of marriage" and grants women certain fundamental rights. The courts have established criteria such as age, a significant period of cohabitation, and voluntary cohabitation to determine the legality of a live-in relationship under the PWDVA. Children born out of live-in relationships are considered legitimate, and property rights and maintenance entitlements have been upheld by the judiciary. However, there is still a need for further discourse and legislation to address the complexities and ensure comprehensive legal protection for individuals in live-in relationships.

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