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What makes a live-in ‘legal’? Supreme Court explains

Thursday, 21 October 2010 - 1:03pm IST Updated: Friday, 22 October 2010 - 12:29am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

'If a man has a 'keep' whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and or as a servant, it would not in our opinion be a relationship in the nature of marriage,' the court said.

Just any live-in relationship does not entitle a woman to palimony, the Supreme Court held on Thursday, defining the criteria which put her in the category of spouse. The court made it clear that if the man has a live-in arrangement with a woman only for sexual reasons, neither partner can claim benefits of a legal marriage.

In order to be eligible for ‘palimony’, a relationship must comply with certain conditions, the apex court said.

They are: the couple must hold themselves out to 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, including being unmarried; and, they must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time.

“Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a domestic relationship,” said a bench of justices Markandey Katju and TS Thakur, cautioning that in future, claims for financial relief arising out of live-in link-ups would increase in India.

Making an attempt to iron out certain ambiguous situations, the judges said if a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship “in the nature of marriage”.

The bench was hearing a dispute over maintenance between one D Velusamy and D Patchaiammal. The family court in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, will now determine whether the woman was a live-in partner or his wife.

Earlier, both the family court and the Tamil Nadu high court had held Patchaiammal as Velusamy’s wife even though the latter, a school teacher, had submitted unimpeachable documents that he had married one Lakshmi in 1980. Patchaiammal had stayed with Velusamy for about three years after their alleged marriage in 1986.

If Lakshmi is Velusamy’s legally wedded wife, then Patchaiammal could at best be a live-in partner. The trial court would examine the nature of the relationship and ascertain whether it fits into the criteria specified for an eligible live-in relationship.

Conscious that the judgment would exclude many women in live-in relationships from the benefit of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the apex court said it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. The parliament has used the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ and not ‘live-in relationship’. The court cannot change the language of the statute, it said. Another bench of the court has already referred the issue of palimony for the consideration of a larger bench.

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