Clear the confusion

Though marriage has been clearly defined by law, relationships outside its purview between willing and adult individuals have been an area of confusion.

Parliament and courts have tried to address the problem but there is still no satisfactory legal standard to lay down the rights and responsibilities of people involved in such relationships.

Interpretations and extensions of existing laws have been found to be inadequate and therefore the Supreme Court has asked for a legislation by Parliament on the matter. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which mentions a “relationship in the nature of marriage”’ was considered to give some legal sanction for live-in relationships but the court has refused to grant the request of a woman who sought maintenance from the man after their relationship ended.

Social mores and customs and moral norms are changing and the law has to keep pace with the needs and challenges thrown by the changes. The court’s position was that it did not have the legal room to provide justice to the aggrieved woman. It accepted that the woman was in distress and the situation is of serious concern “especially when such persons are poor and illiterate.” Co-habitation between men and women is a social reality. It is sometimes tolerated by society but is more often found unacceptable. There are increasing numbers of people who inhabit the dim area beyond accepted legality and conventional morality. It is usually women who end up paying a price for the relationship after spending years with the man, and the children born of such relationships invariably suffer. Since it is men who often have financial dominance dependent women and children are deprived of all support.

In 2010 the Supreme Court framed some guidelines to recognise a live-in relationship. These included a significant period of co-habitation, unmarried status, eligibility by age for marriage, mutual consent and sharing of a household, among others. The latest judgment has added some more to them. Guidelines are not enough to deal with the many situations which vary widely. Though courts have been sympathetic in their judgments to the aggrieved persons, always the woman, they have been inconsistent and sometimes controversial. A comprehensive law is needed to clear the confusion and to define the rights and obligations that go with such relationships.

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