Long cohabitation equal to marriage

Courtship

 
As good as married. Getty “A long cohabitation and acceptance of society of a man and woman as husband and wife goes a long way in establishing a valid marriage,” a Bench comprising Justices S B Sinha and Cyriac Joseph observed recently. The Bench said when disputes of valid marriages comes into question, courts can rely not only on the various material placed before it, but also draw a presumption on the basis of the conduct between the two parties. “In arriving at a finding of fact, indisputably the learned trial judge was not only entitled to analyse the evidence brought on record by the parties so as to come to a conclusion as to whether all the ingredients of a valid marriage as contained in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, stand established or not,” the apex court observed.

The Bench passed the ruling while dismissing an appeal of one Challamma, who questioned the claim of a woman’s marriage to her deceased son K Subramanya. Prior to his marriage, Subramanya had nominated his mother Challamma as nominee in his insurance policies. After his death, Challamma sought the entire survival benefit accruing from the insurance policies to herself.

She claimed that the other claimant, Tilaga, was not married to his son as there was no valid proof of their marriage. But the trial court awarded Challamma only one-fourth of the amount and the remaining to Tilaga, whose marriage with Subramanya was accepted by the judge on the basis of the material evidence produced before it.

Earlier, Challamma had appealed to the Karnataka High Court which dismissed her petition. She later moved the Supreme Court seeking justice.

Rejecting Challamma’s plea, the Supreme Court said that the question as to whether a valid marriage had taken place between Subramanya and Tilaga was essentially a question of fact.

Material facts

In the present case, the wife proved with material facts that she married Subramanya and lived with him for over three years, the Supreme Court said in its ruling. Whereas, Challamma could not adduce sufficient evidence to prove her charges, it noted.

“A heavy burden, thus, lies on the person who seeks to prove that no marriage has taken place,” the Bench said. Further, the apex court said a nominee could not be treated as being equivalent to an heir or legatee.

“The amount of interest under the policy could, therefore, be claimed by the heirs of the assured in accordance with the law of succession governing them,” the Supreme Court Bench said.

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