IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


14th May, 2024 Social Issues


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  • The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court made a significant ruling regarding live-in relationships within the context of Islamic law.

Case Background:

  • A writ petition was filed by Sneha Devi and Mohammed Shadab Khan seeking protection from police action after the woman’s parents filed a kidnapping case against Mr. Khan.
  • The couple claimed to be adults in a live-in relationship and sought protection under Article 21 of the Constitution (protection of life and personal liberty).

Judicial Ruling:

  • A two-judge Bench of Justices A.R. Masoodi and A.K. Srivastava presided over the case.
  • The judges declared that a Muslim individual cannot claim rights in a live-in relationship if they have a living spouse, citing Islamic tenets.
  • They emphasized that such relationships are against the tenets of Islam when one of the parties is already married.
  • However, they noted that the scenario might differ if the individuals involved are unmarried and both are of legal age, choosing to live together of their own accord.


  • The ruling sheds light on the legal status of live-in relationships within the framework of Islamic law, especially in cases where one party is already married.
  • It underscores the importance of considering religious laws and customs when addressing issues related to personal relationships and individual rights.

Constitutional and Social Morality:

  • The court acknowledged the potential conflict between constitutional morality and social morality regarding live-in relationships.
  • While constitutional morality may offer protection under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court emphasized that it cannot unequivocally support such rights, especially when they contradict established social norms and religious principles.
  • In the case at hand, the court deemed that the constitutional protection under Article 21 does not extend to sanctioning a live-in relationship when one party is already married.

Previous Judicial Orders:

  • Live-in relationships with various complexities, including the marital status of the partners, differences in faith, childbirth, and separation, have been subjects of judicial scrutiny in recent times.
  • In the case of Sneha Devi and Mohammed Shadab Khan, only Mr. Khan was married, leading to the court's ruling against their live-in relationship.
  • However, in a separate case from the previous year, both partners were married but engaged in a live-in relationship outside of marriage, indicating the diversity of scenarios presented to the judiciary regarding such arrangements.

These judicial observations underscore the evolving legal landscape concerning live-in relationships and highlight the need for nuanced consideration of individual circumstances, societal norms, and legal principles in adjudicating such cases.

Legal Perspectives on Live-in Relationships:

Supreme Court Intervention:

  • In November 2023, the Supreme Court intervened in cases regarding maintenance claims from live-in partners.
  • Orders passed by lower courts and the Gujarat High Court awarding maintenance were stayed by the Supreme Court.
  • The Surat-based man contested the High Court's decision, arguing that their relationship did not constitute a domestic relationship as they were both married to other individuals at the time.
  • Despite their marital status, they lived together and even had a child, leading to the woman seeking relief under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Punjab and Haryana High Court's Stand:

  • In a related case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court expressed its stance on live-in relationships involving individuals who were already married.
  • The court emphasized that such arrangements could potentially constitute the offence of bigamy under Sections 494/495 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Refusing to provide protection to the couple, the court criticized the male partner's actions as engaging in a lustful and adulterous life without obtaining a valid divorce from his previous spouse.

Judicial Views on Live-in Relationships:

  • India lacks specific laws directly addressing live-in partnerships.
  • The Supreme Court has upheld the right to life, stating that living together is part of this right, thereby decriminalizing live-in relationships.
  • Various Supreme Court judgments have highlighted that long-term cohabitation, even without formal marriage, can lead to the presumption of marriage, subjecting the couple to the same legal rights and obligations.
  • The Allahabad High Court, in the case of Payal Sharma versus Nari Niketan, acknowledged the concept of live-in relationships, asserting that while society may view it as immoral, it is not illegal, emphasizing the distinction between legality and morality.

These legal pronouncements illustrate the evolving stance of the judiciary towards live-in relationships, emphasizing individual rights, societal norms, and the complexities of personal relationships within the legal framework of India.

Live In Relationships

  • In traditional Indian society, marriage holds a sacred position, embodying principles of tolerance and shared responsibilities.
  • Over generations, individuals have adhered to these principles, considering it their duty to uphold them upon entering marriage.
  • However, as society progressed and modernized, a segment of the youth began to view marriage as burdensome, seeking alternatives that would provide companionship without the formalities and commitments associated with marriage.
  • This led to the emergence of live-in relationships as a contemporary concept in India.

Legal Status and Recognition:

  • Live-in relationships are characterized by cohabitation between partners without the legal rights and responsibilities that accompany marriage.
  • Individuals in such relationships choose to live together based on mutual consent, without formal marriage ceremonies. While not explicitly recognized in statutes or government legislation, live-in relationships have gained legal backing through various judgments by the Supreme Court of India.
  • For instance, landmark cases such as Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation and Indra Sarma v. VKV Sarma have established precedents granting legal status to long-term live-in partnerships.

Changing Attitudes:

  • Historically taboo in India, attitudes towards cohabitation have shifted, particularly in urban areas, where live-in relationships are more accepted.
  • However, conservative values still prevail in many rural areas, leading to the continued stigma against cohabitation.

Legal Rights of Female Partners:

  • The Protection of Women and Domestic Violence Act, 2005, grants economic rights to female partners in live-in relationships.
  • Maharashtra Government proposed granting the status of a wife to women in live-in relationships for a 'reasonable period,' with determination based on case-specific circumstances.
  • The National Commission for Women recommended amending the definition of 'wife' in the Criminal Procedure Code to include women in live-in relationships for alignment with domestic violence protection laws.
  • The Malimath Committee supported this view, proposing amendments to provide alimony rights to women in live-in relationships.

Judicial Recognition:

  • The Supreme Court observed that women in live-in relationships can claim maintenance under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code without establishing formal marriage.
  • The Allahabad High Court affirmed the right of adults to live together without marriage if both parties consent.
  • The Supreme Court recognized long-term live-in relationships as equivalent to marriage, granting legitimacy to children born from such unions.

Pros and Cons:

  • The Supreme Court's endorsement of live-in relationships sparked debate, with concerns raised about its impact on societal values and the institution of marriage.
  • Some fear adverse effects such as increased instances of child pregnancies and the spread of diseases.
  • Others view it as a positive step towards individual freedom and pragmatic societal changes.

Legitimacy of Children:

  • The Supreme Court ruled that children born from long-term live-in relationships are legitimate and entitled to inheritance rights.
  • However, inheritance rights are limited to the parents' self-acquired property, not ancestral property.
  • Adultery laws prohibit live-in relationships involving married individuals.


Despite legal recognition, live-in relationships remain non-binding, offering both advantages and disadvantages depending on individual expectations. The legal landscape is evolving, with efforts to expand the legal position of live-in relationships in India, reflecting changing societal norms and attitudes.

Moral and Social Implications:

  • The concept of marriage as a sacrament deeply ingrained in Indian culture often leads to societal taboos surrounding pre-marital cohabitation.
  • While urban centers tend to exhibit higher acceptance of live-in relationships, rural areas maintain more conservative views.
  • Misconceptions persist, with some equating live-in relationships to prostitution and viewing them as fostering irresponsibility and moral decay.
  • However, there is a shifting mindset among newer generations, recognizing individual freedom and choice in matters of companionship.

Viability as Marriage Substitute:

  • Questions arise regarding whether Indian society is ready to accept live-in relationships as a substitute for marriage. Criteria such as the duration of cohabitation are considered in discussions about legal recognition.
  • Distinctions between live-in and marital relationships are emphasized, acknowledging that not all live-in couples will eventually marry.
  • Presently, societal preference leans towards marriage over cohabitation, posing challenges regarding the status of children born in live-in relationships.

Policy and Legislative Considerations:

  • While discussions about legalizing live-in relationships have been initiated, concrete steps towards legislation are yet to be taken.
  • Former Union Law Minister Mr. H.R. Bharadwaj expressed interest in crafting laws to formalize such relationships, contingent upon societal readiness. However, progress in this area remains stagnant, leaving legal recognition of live-in relationships unresolved.


  • In conclusion, Indian society reveres marriage as a sacred institution, often viewing deviations from tradition as sinful.
  • Live-in relationships, representing a departure from this tradition, offer a gradual shift in societal attitudes.
  • While misconceptions and challenges persist, judicial recognition of such relationships reflects evolving perspectives, particularly among younger generations.
  • As discussions about legal recognition continue, the need for nuanced policy considerations becomes increasingly evident in navigating the complexities of modern relationships within the framework of traditional values.

In the contemporary landscape of Indian society, the traditional notions of 'sanskar' and 'family' are undergoing a profound transformation. With increasing urbanization and a growing trend of individuals residing away from their familial homes in cities and metropolitan areas, the fabric of familial bonds is gradually weakening. This societal shift has ushered in the era of "live-in relationships," where unmarried couples choose to cohabit without formal marriage arrangements. While such relationships are not illegal in India, they often lack the societal respect accorded to traditional marriages, particularly among older generations who view them as morally and socially improper. However, the newer generation exhibits a more liberal attitude towards live-in relationships, viewing them as a legitimate expression of personal choice.

Legally, the status of live-in relationships has posed challenges, especially concerning the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act). While the law attempts to extend protection to female partners in "relationships like marriage," its definition of such relationships remains restrictive. The judiciary, through landmark judgments like S. Khushboo Vs. Kanniammal & Anr. and D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal, has delineated specific criteria to qualify as a "relationship like marriage," including the capacity to marry, shared household, pooled resources, and mutual recognition as spouses in public.

Moreover, live-in relationships have been entangled in legal complexities regarding rape allegations. Cases of rape stemming from terminated live-in partnerships or refusal to marry have led to significant concerns about false accusations. In response, efforts to exclude live-in relationships from the purview of rape laws were met with dismissal by the courts. However, the judiciary emphasized the need for thorough investigation before arrests to prevent false implications.

While women in live-in relationships lack certain legal protections available to married women under laws like Section 498a, they retain avenues for legal recourse. Despite the challenges and complexities, live-in relationships represent a significant departure from traditional norms, reflecting evolving societal dynamics and attitudes towards personal relationships in contemporary India.


Q. From a legal standpoint, is Indian society poised to embrace live-in relationships as a legitimate substitute for marriage, reflecting evolving social norms and legal frameworks?