23 Oct 2010

Live-in relationships: Supreme Court reflects


In what became instant news and spread like jungle fire in national media, the decision of the Supreme Court in D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal [later reported as AIR 2011 SC 479] reflecting upon live-in relationships becoming frequent in India, the Court has pointed out that no legal entitlements occur by such relationship. While Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising has strongly objected to the gender insensitive terminology employed in the decision, since the decision is here to stay, it is clear that no maintenance is available to a concubine under law in India. 

The Supreme Court was dealing with the claim of maintenance by a women claiming to be a wife in view of a live-in relationship for some year (about which we have already written noting a High Court decision). The Court ruled that the concept of palimony which applied to such relationships was not recognized in India and even though the Domestic Violence Act recognized live-in relationship to some degree, not all such relationships were entitled for maintenance unless they satisfied the conditions stipulated by the Court.

The Supreme Court also commented on  such relationships described as common-law marriages and the popularity of live-in marriages as a social phenomenon (compared to it being considered a taboo earlier) and even recognised by the Parliament in terms of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Markandey Katju and Justive T.S. Thakur, observed in this regard as under;
21. In our opinion Parliament by the aforesaid Act has drawn a distinction between the relationship of marriage and a relationship in the nature of marriage, and has provided that in either case the person who enters into either relationship is entitled to the benefit of the Act.

22. It seems to us that in the aforesaid Act of 2005 Parliament has taken notice of a new social phenomenon which has emerged in our country known as live-in relationship. This new relationship is still rare in our country, and is sometimes found in big urban cities in India, but it is very common in North America and Europe. It has been commented upon by this Court in S. Khushboo vs. Kanniammal & Anr. (2010) 5 SCC 600 (vide para 31).

23. When a wife is deserted, in most countries the law provides for maintenance to her by her husband, which is called alimony. However, earlier there was no law providing for maintenance to a woman who was having a live-in relationship with a man without being married to him and was then deserted by him.

24. In USA the expression `palimony’ was coined which means grant of maintenance to a woman who has lived for a substantial period of time with a man without marrying him, and is then deserted by him (see ‘palimony’ on Google). The first decision on palimony was the well known decision of the California Superior Court in Marvin vs. Marvin (1976) 18 C3d660. This 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 by him and she claimed palimony. Subsequently in many decisions of the Courts in USA, the concept of palimony has been considered and developed. The US Supreme Court has not given any decision on whether there is a legal right to palimony, but there are several decisions of the Courts in various States in USA. These Courts in USA have taken divergent views, some granting palimony, some denying it altogether, and some granting it on certain conditions. Hence in USA the law is still in a state of evolution on the right to palimony.

25. Although there is no statutory basis for grant of palimony in USA, the Courts there which have granted it have granted it on a contractual basis. Some Courts in USA have held that there must be a written or oral agreement between the man and woman that if they separate the man will give palimony to the woman, while other Courts have held that if a man and woman have lived together for a substantially long period without getting married there would be deemed to be an implied or constructive contract that palimony will be given on their separation.

26. In Taylor vs. Fields (1986) 224 Cal. Rpr. 186 the facts were that the plaintiff Taylor had a relationship with a married man Leo. After Leo died Taylor sued his widow alleging breach of an implied agreement to take care of Taylor financially and she claimed maintenance from the estate of Leo. The Court of Appeals in California held that the relationship alleged by Taylor was nothing more than that of a married man and his mistress. It was held that the alleged contract rested on meretricious consideration and hence was invalid and unenforceable. The Court of Appeals relied on the fact that Taylor did not live together with Leo but only occasionally spent weekends with him. There was no sign of a stable and significant cohabitation between the two.

27. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court in Devaney vs. L’ Esperance 195 N.J., 247 (2008) held that cohabitation is not necessary to claim palimony, rather “it is the promise to support, expressed or implied, coupled with a marital type relationship, that are indispensable elements to support a valid claim for palimony”. A law has now been passed in 2010 by the State legislature of New Jersey that there must be a written agreement between the parties to claim palimony. 

28. Thus, there are widely divergent views of the Courts in U.S.A. regarding the right to palimony. Some States like Georgia and Tennessee expressly refuse to recognize palimony agreements. 

29. Written palimony contracts are rare, but some US Courts have found implied contracts when a woman has given up her career, has managed the household, and assisted a man in his business for a lengthy period of time. Even when there is no explicit written or oral contract some US Courts have held that the action of the parties make it appear that a constructive or implied contract for grant of palimony existed. 

30. However, a meretricious contract exclusively for sexual service is held in all US Courts as invalid and unenforceable.

31. In the case before us we are not called upon to decide whether in our country there can be a valid claim for palimony on the basis of a contract, express or implied, written or oral, since no such case was set up by the respondent in her petition under Section 125 Cr.P.C.

32. Some countries in the world recognize common law marriages. A common law marriage, sometimes called de facto marriage, or informal marriage is recognized in some countries as a marriage though no legally recognized marriage ceremony is performed or civil marriage contract is entered into or the marriage registered in a civil registry (see details on Google).

33. In our opinion a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ is akin to a common law marriage. Common law marriages require that although not being formally married :-
(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 fulfill 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’ 

35. 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, 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 grab of interpretation cannot change the language of the statute.

36. 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 Bovary’ and the novels of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.
37. However, Indian society is changing, and this change has been reflected and recognized by Parliament by enacting The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

2 comments:

Bal Patil said...

Please note the strong and spirited reaction on this judgment by Indira Jaising, Addl.Solicitor General:"`Keep' for Indian women translates into the Hindi term rakhel, which is highly derogatory... totally betrays a male chauvinist attitude INDIRA JAISING, ASG
THE first woman Additional Solicitor General of India, Indira Jaising, took on a Supreme Court Bench in open court today for what she called was its "male chauvinist and derogatory" language against Indian women in its judgment delivered yesterday on the legal status of live-in relationships.

Shah Jayani said...

has the case been taken by the family court, as j. kathju directed??

Or the above decision is the last one?

also what happens now, considering the observations of the division bench, will she be given alimony/palimony?

and does this mean that in future cases too, the marital status of man (IN CASE MARRIED BEFORE) will not be considered. At least what i understood from the language of judgment was that rather than considering the previous marriage of man, his relationship with the women in question is what determines the woman's right of maintenance.
Correct me if i am wrong