Legal Recognition of Live-In Relationships in India: Trends and Challenges

Published On: 2nd February, 2024

Authored By: Jaahnavi Mishra
Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune


Unmarried couples who share a home and form a strong tie as husband and wife without getting married are referred to as cohabitants, sometimes known as live-in relationships. Over the world, this modern, cultured relationship is growing in popularity and pushing the bounds of traditional society. Live-in relationships are a developing aspect of personal unions that contradict social standards and have become an important component of society dynamics. India has a complicated cultural history when it comes to live-in relationships, which are defined as cohabitation without legal requirements or rituals of marriage. In India, where arranged marriage ceremonies have long been an integral part of the culture, live-in partnerships have emerged as a significant social change. In the past, society’s expectations gave priority to marriages that were sanctioned by family, religion, and customs. nonetheless, over the past few decades, opinions have gradually changed as more people choose to look into relationships outside of marriage.

Historical context in Indian society

Gaining knowledge about Indian society about live-in relationships necessitates an in-depth knowledge of historical perspectives. In the past, Indian customs have been established by social customs and cultural values, which served as the foundation for marriages. Over time, though, social standards began to shift as a result of which people adopted alternative forms of relationships, which went against the long-standing customs of the community.

The necessity for legal recognition

The rising incidence of live-in relationships has made the need for legal recognition and protection more and more necessary. as opposed to marriage, which has clearly defined rights and obligations. The legal authorization of live-in partnerships can create a framework to safeguard the interests of all parties involved by resolving issues related to property, inheritance, and child custody.

Significant shifts like marriage in recent years have led to an increase in the number of live-in relationships. Nonetheless, the legal environment about these forms of relationships is still complex and changing, with some degree of recognition and protection offered by different nations. This article examines the legal status of live-in partnerships, paying particular attention to the lack of explicit legislation, the legal protection offered by other acts, and trends in legal recognition.

Current legal status:

  1. Absence of specific laws- Lack of explicit laws: In Indian society, live-in relationships are not regarded as normal and are not legally recognized by any statutory statute. As opposed to marriages, which are governed by laws and are protected by several personal laws. However, compared to married couples, live-in couples frequently find themselves in a legal gray area with limited safeguarding and obligations.
  2. Legal protection through other statutes: Despite the lack of legislation that expressly protects live-in partners, there are still several other statutes that provide the individual with legal protection. They are given certain protections by-laws that deal with property rights, child custody, and domestic abuse.
  3. Varied interpretations by courts: The recognition of live-in relationships also depends upon judicial decisions, which play a pivotal role in shaping the legal framework for society. The decisions of courts present a diversity of viewpoints regarding the rights and obligations of individuals living together.

Trends in legal recognition

  • Judicial decisions shaping the landscape: important court decisions have had a significant influence on the legal situation. Significant cases have established precedents that uphold people’s rights and add to the establishing body of knowledge about live-in relationships in law. Numerous instances are influencing court precedents and shedding light on how the judiciary has affected the nature of live-in relationships in India.  The landmark decision in the 2013 case of Indira Sharma v. v.k.v Sharma established the legality of live-in relationships and allowed women to seek maintenance rights.
  • Legislative initiatives: Various legislative measures were taken to address the legal status of live-in relationships in response to the evolving dynamics of these relationships.Analyzing these bills and proposing amendments can provide a comprehensive view of the ongoing effort to regulate cohabitation.

For example, The Domestic Violence Act 2005, protects women in live-in relationships against domestic violence. The societal and legal landscape is not static it is dynamic the perspective evolves on relationships, marriages, and cohabitations.

Challenges in legal recognition

  1. Lack of clear framework- the absence of a clear framework often gives rise to various challenges like property disputes, inheritance, and financial responsibilities remain unsolved. There is a necessity for a comprehensive legal framework to deal with all the problems and provide a structure to handle the challenges and issues in live-in relations.
  2. Social stigma and cultural resistance- live-in relationships face social stigma and cultural resistance in India. Because in India it is not yet accepted by the society that runs through the societal and cultural norms. It leads to discrimination against the couple who chooses this type of lifestyle.

Education and campaigns are required to create awareness which can create an impact on society and overcome the myths relating to live-in relationships.

Complexity in defining and proving a live-in relationship

Defining and proving the status of live-in couples is very complex and difficult because legal recognition requires documents to prove but live-in couples do not have any as that of married couples. This created challenges and difficulty for the couple to seek protection under the law.

Comparative analysis

  1. International perspective on legalizing live-in relationships- examining how the other country navigates the legal aspects of live-in relationships will provide valuable insights into the potential model for legal recognition of it.
  2. Learning from other legal systems- looking into other countries’ legal systems relating to live-in relationships will help in understanding the legal framework and valuable lessons for India. For example, Sweden and Norway have very progressive laws for the protection of rights of the live-in couples.

Recent cases

2013 saw the historic case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma, which upheld the validity of live-in relationships and gave women the ability to ask for maintenance. The rights of individuals in live-in relationships were acknowledged in this decision, which signaled a major shift in legal doctrine.

Payal Sharma v. Superintendent, Nari Niketan and Others, (2020): In a recent decision, the Delhi High Court upheld Indian adults’ right to select their life partners and cohabitate without intervention from the government or the community. The right to personal freedom and individual autonomy were highlighted in the judgment.

Recommendations for legal reforms

  1. Drafting comprehensive legislation- to address the challenges of live-in relationships there is a need for comprehensive legislation like other laws in India which will ensure equal treatment to couples and avoid discrimination by defining the rights and responsibilities of the individuals.
  2. Addressing societal concerns through awareness campaigns- to overcome the challenges of live-in relationships it is necessary to create awareness about the same in society through NGOs, campaigns, and social media to educate the public about the legitimacy and diversity of relationships.


In conclusion, the legal landscape concerning live-in relationships in India is a complex matter, shaped by a blend of historical, cultural, and legal factors. Notably, recent legal cases have played a pivotal role in ushering in a transformative shift, acknowledging and safeguarding the rights of individuals engaged in such relationships. As India grapples with the dynamic changes in societal norms, there arises an urgent need for substantial legal reform to bring about clarity, protection, and official acknowledgment for those who opt for cohabitation instead of traditional marriage. Negotiating through the intricate web of legal uncertainties, societal perspectives, and evolving international benchmarks becomes imperative in the pursuit of establishing a legal framework that honors the diverse choices individuals make in the realms of companionship and commitment. The incorporation of recent legal precedents, coupled with an exhaustive exploration of various facets, contributes to a comprehensive comprehension of the elaborate legal terrain surrounding live-in relationships in India.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *