The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005, is the first legislation that, in having covered relations “in the nature of marriage”, has provided legal recognition to relations outside marriage.
The act recognised the existence of non-marital adult heterosexual relationships.
Under the law, an “aggrieved person” is “any woman who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the respondent and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the respondent”
A domestic relationship under the act has been defined as “a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family and relations in the nature of marriage”.
This definition of understanding what is the scope of a domestic relationship allows women protection in relationships between a woman and her husband, father, brother, other males and even female kin related through consanguinity or marriage.
In 2008, the government of Maharashtra attempted to amend Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code to broaden the definition of the term “wife” to include a woman who was living with a man “like his wife” for a reasonably long period in the definition.
The same has been understood by the courts while interpreting the clause “relations in the nature of marriage to include live-in relationships as well.”
This is further evident from the judgment delivered by the Apex Court (S Khushboo v Kanniammal & Anr, (2010) 5SCC600).
The court held that
“The scope of criminality in consensual adult relationships when they reiterated that while it is true that the mainstream view in our society is that sexual contact should take place only between marital partners, there is no statutory offence that takes place when adults willingly engage in sexual relations outside the marital setting, excluding ‘adultery’ as defined under Section 497 IPC. It is thus obvious that non-marital relations have not had a criminal or “illegal” status in India insofar as they are not covered by the adultery law and insofar as the principle of presumption of marriage prevails.”
The court laid down certain conditions that had to prove live-in relationships.
The court held that
“Relation in the nature of marriage” with “live-in” relations prevalent in the west, the judges state that in their opinion, a “relationship in the nature of marriage” is akin to a common law marriage. According to the judgment, common law marriages require that although not being formally married,
(a) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses,
(b) They must be of legal age to marry,
(c) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried,
(d) They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.”
In D Patchaiammal v D Velusamy, Supreme Court stated that
“If a man and woman are having a live-in relationship for an extensive period, they will be taken as a married couple in society.”
“Moreover, the child born out of this relationship would be called legitimate. Some recent changes in the law also promise protection to women involved in live-in relationships. But this doesn’t mean that the court is encouraging such kinds of relationships.”
Hence live-in relationships come under the ambit of Domestic Relationships as defined under the act.