The Supreme Court Thursday said that not all live-in arrangements amount to a “relationship in the nature of marriage” to entitle women to maintenance under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
“Merely spending weekends together or one night stand would not make it a domestic relationship,” the court said.
Though the act talks about the “relationship in the nature of marriage”, “unfortunately this expression has not been defined in the act”, said the apex court bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T.S. Thakur in their judgment.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Katju said that for the purposes of claiming benefits under the domestic violence law, the claimant must satisfy four requirements.
These include that the couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouse; they must be of legal age to marry; they must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage and must be unmarried, and they must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time.
The fulfilment of these four conditions has to be backed by evidence, the court said.
The judgment said: “In our opinion, a relationship in the nature of marriage under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 must also fulfil the above requirements, and in addition the parties must have lived together in a shared household as defined in section 2(s) of the act.”
The judgment 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 judgment said that in feudal society, sexual relationship between man and woman outside the marriage was totally taboo and was regarded with disgust and horror.
However, the Indian society was changing. Though the new social phenomenon of live-in relationship was still rare in the country, sometimes it was found in big cities, the judgment said.
The judges said it seemed that while approving the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, parliament had taken note of this new social phenomenon of live-in relationship.
The court said this while setting aside a Madras High Court verdict by which it had recognized the second woman in the life of D. Velusamy as his wife and awarded her maintenance of Rs.500 per month.
The court held that both the trial court and the high court decided in favour of Velusamys “second wife”, D. Patchalammal, without issuing notice to Valusamys first wife Lakshmi and affording her a hearing.
Velusamy – senior grade teacher in Coimbatore – married Lakshmi June 25, 1980. From his first wife he has a son who is studying engineering at Ooty.
Subsequently, Velusamy married Patchalammal on Sep 14, 1986. After staying together for two-three years at the house of Patchalammals father, Velusamy deserted her.
That means that Velusamy deserted Patchalammal either in 1988 or 1989. In 2001, Patchalammal moved the family court seeking maintenance, the court noted.
The apex court said that it was incumbent upon Patchalammal to “satisfactorily” explain the delay of 12 years before she moved the court for maintenance.
Setting aside the high court and the family court verdict, the apex court remanded the matter back to the family court to hear the matter afresh after issuing notice to Lakshmi.
The judgment assailed the family court for drawing the conclusion that Valusamy was not married to Lakshmi without giving her an opportunity to present her side of the case.
The judgment also noted that the family court also did not give any finding whether Valusamy and Patchalammal had lived reasonably long in a relationship which was in the nature of marriage.
The judgment said that answer to these questions was essential for deciding the case.