SC lays down conditions for women seeking maintenance in live-in relationships
Oct 21, 2010
NEW DELHI: A woman in a live-in relationship is not entitled to maintenance unless she fulfils certain parameters, the Supreme Court held today while observing that merely spending weekends together or a one night stand would not make it a domestic relationship.
A bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and T S Thakur said that in order to get maintenance, a woman, even if not married, has to fulfil the following four requirements:
(1) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses
(2) They must be of legal age to marry
(3) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage including being unmarried
(4) They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.
"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 (Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act). To get such benefits 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," the court said.
"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 (Protection of Women from Domestic Violence 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 garb of interpretation cannot change the language of the statute," the bench observed.
The apex court passed the judgement while setting aside the concurrent orders passed by a matrimonial court and the Madras High Court awarding Rs 500 maintenance to D Patchaiammal who claimed to have married the appellant D Velusamy.
Velusamy had challenged the two courts order on the ground that he was already married to one Laxmi and Patchiammal was not married to him though he lived with her for some time.
Interpreting section 125 of CrPC relating to maintenance, the apex court said besides a legally-wedded wife, dependent parents and children alone are entitled to maintenance from a man.
But the Domestic Violence Act expanded the scope of maintenance by using the expression 'domestic relationship' which includes not only the relationship of marriage but also a relationship 'in the nature of marriage'.
"Unfortunately this expression has not been defined in the Act. Since there is no direct discussion of this court on the interpretation of this expression, we think it necessary to interpret because a large number of cases will be coming up before the court in our country on this point and hence an authoritative decision is required," the bench said.
According to the apex court, the legislation was enacted in view of the new social phenomenon in the country in the form of live-in relationship.
"In feudal society, sexual relationship between man and woman outside marriage was totally taboo and regarded with disgust and horror as depicted in Leo Tolstoy's novel 'Anna Karenina', Gustave Flaubert's novel 'Madame Bobary' and the novels of the great Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.
"However, Indian society is changing and this change has been reflected and recognised by Parliament by enacting the Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Act, 2005," the bench said.
The apex court discussed at length the various US courts' rulings on grant of maintenance under the doctrine of 'Palimony'(pals) under which divergent rulings were passed vis-a-vis maintenance to a woman in a live-in relationship.
The bench recalled the California superior court's ruling in Marvin versus Marvin (1976) case wherein maintenance was awarded to the woman in live-in relationship.
The case related to the famous film actor Lee Marvin with whom a lady Michelle lived for many years without marrying him and was then deserted following which she claimed palimony.
In the present case, the apex court said that since the two lower courts had been given an opportunity to Velusamy's first wife Laxmi to be heard, the directions passed by it was erroneous hence it remanded the matter back to the matrimonial court to examine whether Laxmi was the legally wedded wife of Velusamy.