A bench of Justice MY Eqbal and Justice Amitava Roy said continuous cohabitation of a couple would raise the presumption of valid marriage and it would be for the opposite party to prove that they were not legally married.
“It is well settled that the law presumes in favour of marriage and against concubinage, when a man and woman have cohabited continuously for a long time. However, the presumption can be rebutted by leading unimpeachable evidence. A heavy burden lies on a party who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin,” the bench said.
I haven’t read full judgment, but I really doubt that any new legal concept is being introduced here. The SC judgment itself says “It is well settled that the law presumes in favour of marriage and against concubinage…”. If SC says that it is a well-settled principle of law, then it can’t be true at the same time that this judgment has introduced any brand new legal concept, or it can be termed a ‘landmark’ judgment as is being mentioned in news reports.
Is a 20 years relationship a live-in relationship?
A clarification is in order in this age of instant news bytes where the news headlines are proclaiming that a couple living together will presumed to be married from now onwards. The SC judgment says that the said woman was living with the man for 20 years after death of the legal wife of man.
The court passed the order in a property dispute where family members contested that their grandfather, who was living with a woman for 20 years after his wife’s death, was not legally wedded to the woman and she was not entitled to inherit the property after his death. They contended that she was their grandfather’s mistress.
A 20 years relationship is It is NOT what people usually think when they hear the words “live-in relationship”, which term is usually thought of relationships in the variety of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma relationship. If the news headlines are taken at face value, will it then mean that Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma can be considered as married? If so, what is the length of live-in relationship which will convert into a married relationship: 2 months, 6 months, 2 years?
Actually the Supreme Court has already given a major judgment in Oct 2010 related to this question, which was to decide on benefits to woman in live-in relationship under DV Act, which I had summarily blogged about earlier, but now updated it with full judgment at link below.
The key part from above judgment is given below:
(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.
(see `Common Law Marriage’ in Wikipedia on Google) In our opinion a `relationship in the nature of marriage’ under the 2005 Act 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. Merely spending weekends together or a one night stand would not make it a `domestic relationship’.
34. In our opinion not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Act of 2005. To get such benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. 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’
So taking above into view, unlike what the news headlines are saying, a couple in a 6 months to 1 year live-in relationship will not be considered as married, but only when conditions like above are satisfied. It is just a case of instant (but bad) reporting by media.