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Supreme Court: not all live-in affairs are ‘relationship in the nature of marriage'

J. Venkatesan


Spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it domestic relationship

Parliament used the expression ‘relationship in nature of marriage' and not ‘live-in relationship'


NEW DELHI: If a man keeps a woman, this relationship will not be in the nature of marriage for her to claim the benefit of live-in to get maintenance under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act, 2005, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and T.S. Thakur pointed out that the Act had used the expression `relationship in the nature of marriage' and not ‘live-in relationship' for the grant of benefit to affected women. “In our opinion not all live-in relationships will amount to a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage' [for women] to get the benefit of the Act. A ‘relationship in the nature of marriage' is akin to a common law marriage. Common law marriages require that the couple, although not formally married, 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. They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.”

(Earlier this month, Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly referred to a larger Bench the issue relating to grant of maintenance to women in live-in relationships; whether it could be done under Section 125 Cr.PC. or the PWDV Act.)

Writing the judgment in this case, Justice Katju said: “Merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a ‘domestic relationship'.

“To get such benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. No doubt, the view we are taking would exclude many women who have had a live-in relationship from the benefit of the 2005 Act, but then it is not for this court to legislate or amend the law. Parliament has used the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage' and not ‘live-in relationship'. The court, in the grab of interpretation, cannot change the language of the statute.”

The Bench quoted the judgments of various courts in the United States. “In the USA the expression ‘palimony' was coined, which means grant of maintenance to a woman who has lived for a substantial period of time with a man without marrying him, and is then deserted by him. Although there is no statutory basis for grant of palimony in the USA, the courts there which have granted it have granted it on a contractual basis.”

However, “in the case before us we are not called upon to decide whether in our country there can be a valid claim for palimony on the basis of a contract, express or implied, written or oral, since no such case was set up by the respondent in her petition under Section 125 Cr.PC.”

D. Velusamy was aggrieved over a Madras High Court judgment upholding a Coimbatore trial court order, awarding maintenance of Rs. 500 to respondent D. Patchaiammal, declaring her his wife, though his first marriage with Lakshmi was not dissolved.

The Bench set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court and the Family Court Judge, Coimbatore, and remanded the matter to the Family Court Judge to decide the matter afresh in accordance with law and in the light of its observations.

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