Rights of women in live-in relations under court lens

The Supreme Court Wednesday reserved its verdict on the question whether a woman in a live-in relationship or under the mistaken belief of being the wife of an already married man was entitled to maintenance.

The court will also interpret the provision of the Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence law which talks about live-in relationship in the ‘nature of marriage’.

Senior counsel and amicus curiae Jayant Bhushan told the court that at the time of passing the domestic violence law, parliament was told that this provision of the law would not extend an aggrieved woman the right to the property of her live in partner.

However, the court said that the act was silent on the aspect of maintenance.

‘It would be against the public policy and would demolish the institution of marriage if we award maintenance in the case of assumed marriage when the first marriage is surviving,’ an apex court bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice T.S. Thakur said.

The court reserved its order in a case where D. Velusamy has challenged an order of the Madras High Court directing him to pay maintenance of Rs.500 per month to his ‘second wife’ D. Patchaiammal. Velusamy allegedly married Patchaiammal when his first marriage was still intact.

The court said that ‘If your relationship is just for sex then it is not a marriage. It (marriage) is love and affection, mutual respect, regard, sacrifice and give and take,’ Justice Katju said.

The court also examined the question that if the ‘other’ woman was granted maintenance then she would also stake claim to her share in the man’s family pension in a possible eventuality.

Justice Thakur posed the question ‘if there was need for proceedings of the court to declare ‘second marriage’ void or it is presumed to be void (in the wake of first marriage surviving)’.

Bhushan told the court that such live-in relationship could be covered by the common law that was sill prevalent in 11 states of America and in most of Canada. The common law is not recognized in England.

Amicus curiae said that live-in relationship under the common law had no sanction of authorities but the couple present themselves as spouse to the world. This is a quasi judicial marriage, he told the court.

Bhushan also told the court that the law commission in Britain has recommended statutory provisions recognizing co-habitation that extends to three to five years. He said that this recommendation has yet to be acted upon.

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