What is a live-in relationship?
A live-in relationship is an arrangement in which an unmarried couple lives together in a long-term relationship.
Couples choose to cohabit outside the bounds of marriage for several reasons.
- It is likely that neither party believes in marriage and a live-in arrangement satisfies their expectations from the relationship.
- In some cases, a live-in relationship is considered as a way of taking the relationship to the next level of commitment.
- Couples also try live-in relationships to test their compatibility before committing to a legal union.
When two people like each other they begin dating. The endgame for a couple in such cases is either marriage or a break-up. A live-in relationship is a middle path between dating and marriage. For many, it is the step before marriage, while some choose not to marry at all.
A couple in a live-in relationship end up sharing the financial burden and offer each other emotional support and companionship. At the same time, the relationship is not binding giving the couple the option to end the relationship without going through a divorce.
But, in reality, it’s not all a bed of roses.
Live-in relationships are considered a taboo in India. Parents don’t agree with it, landlords refuse to rent homes to unwed couples and everyone else just frowns upon it. But it has not stopped several young couples from going down this road.
Most Indians may not know that the concept of live-in relationships is thought to have originated in the Vedic period and is not entirely a western practice. In Gujarat, the practice of Maitri-Karar allowed couples to live together outside the bounds of marriage.
Class divide in live-in relationships?
In spite of live-in relationships being frowned up, it is seen to be acceptable when the elite or upper class indulge in it. For example, no one looks down upon politicians, Bollywood stars and other big personalities who have opted for live-in relationships.
The most popular example of a celebrity who openly carried on a live-in relationship was of actor and filmmaker Kamal Hassan with his partner, Sarika. He even had a child with her before marrying her in 1988. Later, he also went on to have another live-in relationship with Gautami for 13 years.
But the middle class or the ‘aam aadmi’ (aka common man) seem to be opposed to the idea. Middle-class families generally have stronger familial ties (as compared to celebrities) resulting in limited opportunities to deviate from the norms. They probably have greater financial interdependence with family members that imposes practical curbs on experimenting with lifestyle choices.
Live-in relationships across age and social boundaries
But the live-in lifestyle is not something that only youngsters indulge in. Recently an elderly couple in Kerala reluctantly married after forty years of living together. A few divorced/widowed people who have found love again are also opting for live-in relationships.
Young India finds a live-in relationship as a best suitable means of having a virtual married life without following complex rituals, obligations and social responsibility.
Live-in relationships are more than just a form of rebellion for the youth. Some tribal population, such as the Garasia tribes of Rajasthan believe that marriage imposes restrictions upon women and thus they tend to opt for live-in relationships.
In fact, the Madhya Pradesh State Women’s Commission, to secure the rights of tribal women in live-in relationships, has recommended that these unions be awarded a legal status.
5 Advantages of live-in relationships
To put it crudely, a live-in relationship is like a no-obligation trial before you get the real thing! Clearly, there is a lot more emotion involved but it is impossible to dismiss live-in relationships as just a fad. It has clear advantages over marriage and here are five key points that make a live-in relationship a compelling alternative to marriage.
1. Enjoy best of both worlds
In a live-in relationship, you get to experience the joys of having a stable partner (just like in a marriage) while retaining the freedom associated with a single life! While you are committed to your partner you don’t have any responsibilities towards your partner’s parents and relatives unlike in a marriage. You can enjoy your personal space without having to remain single. Can it get better than this?
2. Greater financial freedom
Financial freedom is considered as one of the biggest advantages of being in a live-in relationship. In a marriage, the couple is expected to share the income, maintain joint bank accounts and keep an eye on their spending. But in a live-in relationship, you share the bills of the household whilst maintaining the freedom to do as you wish with your earnings.
3. Limit legal hassles
Separating from each other in a marriage or ending the marriage entails a lot of legal hassle like dividing of assets, alimony and custody agreements of children (if any). A marriage is very difficult to dissolve but in a live-in relationship, it is as simple of walking out of each other’s lives without the need to draw up legal papers and go through a tedious divorce proceeding at the court.
4. Avoid compatibility issues later
Live-in relationships are the perfect litmus test to a relationship. If you can survive living together without too many problems, it is very likely that you will have a successful marriage too. Couples that opt to live together for a while before getting married will have the opportunity to test their compatibility for a long-term relationship without the pressure of making it work somehow.
5. Easier to build mutual respect
When there is no pressure of being financially or socially dependant on one another, couples tend to enjoy more peaceful lives with fewer conflicts. You tend to respect that other person’s personal space while making them feel comfortable at the same time. You can do away with the negative influences of relatives and customs that might dictate what the couple can do and cannot do in a marriage.
6 Disadvantages of live-in relationships
The flexibility offered by a live-in relationship is tempting and in some cases too good to be true. If the intent of both the parties entering into a live-in relationship is genuine, a negative fallout can be managed to the satisfaction of both the parties. However, this is not always the case. Watch out for these 6 pitfalls before you sign up for a live-in relationship.
1. Lack of social acceptance
In general, Indians have still not embraced the concept of live-in relationships wholeheartedly. Couples who live together often may often face harassment from neighbours, landlords and their respective families.
Justice Prakash Tatia, the chairperson of the Rajasthan Human Right Commission, created a flutter recently by calling live-in relationships as a form of “social terrorism”.
Here was his shocking explanation in an interview with the Indian Express.
The area where they (a couple) live-in…there is a sense of insecurity. A neighbour thinks, whether my daughter or son goes there (to the couple’s house). There is a sense of fear, which virtually creates terror…there may be fights. I am not saying the people who are fighting are right but it’s the reality.
2. Lack of commitment
While this is considered as an advantage as well, it is also perceived as a major disadvantage as a live-in relationship lacks commitment or any form of social obligation. Either party in the relationship can choose to exit leaving the other person, who might have had a greater emotional investment in the relationship, high and dry without any recourse.
A study in the UK found that nearly one in 6 unmarried couples were worried about the loyalty of their partners. On the other hand, married couples had a significantly lower incidence of doubts about loyalty and commitment.
3. Risk losing the spark early on
When a couple decides to live together before marriage, they go through everything that a newly married couple would go through. Thus, there is much less to be discovered post marriage and the spark is not probably alive.
Differences evolve and familiarity eventually breeds contempt. As couples live together they start losing physical attraction as they start seeing each other as a “caretaker”. Couples also stop making themselves attractive to the other party as they have grown comfortable with each other. Most interactions between couples in long-term relationships devolve into routine transactions with no interesting joint activities that could keep the spark alive.
4. Children in a limbo?
Children born out of wedlock to a couple who have been living together are considered legitimate by law but not accepted by the society. As a result, it is possible that the child could face rejection or disapproval from society.
The status of the parent’s relationship can easily become the topic of conversation among schoolmates, friends or even among relatives resulting in psychological issues and a sense of rejection among the children. As they grow up, they will always wonder why their parents chose not to marry.
5. Sexual exploitation
In general, cases of sexual exploitation and discrimination against women have been on the rise. Women are subject to harassment not only by the partner but also by the society. In India, the society tends to judge the woman more rather than a man. If the woman is not financially independent, her ability to end the exploitative nature of the relationship is non-existent.
In some cases, women are forced to agree to a sexual relationship with the promise that eventually the live-in relationship will lead to a marriage. However, after a while, the woman is abandoned. An allegation of rape doesn’t hold water in the courts in such cases as the relationship was consensual from the beginning.
6. Hassle with legal documents
Couples in live-in relationships face huge odds in securing documents such as visas, applying for medical insurance, opening bank accounts and navigating government regulations to get things done.
For example, it is difficult to get your partner a health insurance coverage if he/she is not your spouse. Sometimes, even hospital visitation rights are difficult to get if the couple isn’t married.
International chess player Anuradha Beniwal was living in with her partner with no objections from family. But when her partner decided to take up a job offer in London and she too was willing to move, they got married in a rush to avoid visa troubles.
The Indian judiciary’s view of live-in relationships
India has never been as accepting of live-in relationships as countries in the west have. In western countries, there is a broader understanding of the idea of couple and family with legal recognition of cohabitation, domestic partnership and civil unions.
In fact, when we examine the history of judgements pronounced by the Supreme Court, we can come to a conclusion on the legality of live-in relationships in India.
The Supreme Court of India stated that if a man and a woman ”lived like husband and wife” for a long period and had children, the judiciary would presume that the two were married.
This ruling was a result of the first case, Badri Prasad vs. Dy. Director of Consolidation in which the court gave legal validity to a couple in a live-in relationship for 50 years!
Even in the case of Payal Katara vs. Superintendent, Nari Niketan Kandri Vihar, Agra and others, the court drew a line between legality and morality. According to the court, just because a live-in relationship may be considered immoral doesn’t automatically make it illegal.
While the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of live-in relationships, the intent of the relationship could determine the fate of the relationship from a legal perspective.
According to the Supreme Court, a couple entering a live-in relationship or a similar arrangement only for the sake of sexual gratification cannot claim the legal benefits accorded to a marriage.
This was precisely the judgement given by the court in the D. Velusamy vs. D. Patchaiammal case.
In summary, for the court to accord live-in relationships the same status as that of a marriage, there are a few conditions that need to be met.
- The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses.
- They must be of legal age to marry and they must be otherwise qualified to enter a legal marriage, including being unmarried.
- They must have voluntarily cohabited for a significant period of time.
Check out the video for an in-depth discussion on a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court on live-in relationships.
Children, domestic violence, dowry and live-in relationships
The courts in India have also pronounced several judgements to cover issues arising from live-in relationships such as the status of children, harassment and domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Act, enacted with the objective of protecting women against domestic violence, initially did not have any provision to protect the women who are in live-in relationships. However, in 2005, an amendment was made that brings violence caused in a live-in relationship within its ambit.
Another implication of live-in relationships is the legal status of children born out of such relationships. The apex court has clarified that the children born of parents in a live-in relationship could not be called illegitimate.
Lawyer-activist Pyoli Swatija, who was in a live-in relationship before getting married, points out that the mother is the natural guardian of the child born in a live-in relationship and the father has no obligation to support the child. In addition, marriage is required if all the inheritance rights of the children are to be secured.
The courts have also conferred the right to claim maintenance to a woman in a live-in relationship.
Thankfully, dowry harassment in a live-in relationship continues to be a punishable offence. In the case of Koppisetti Subbharao Subramaniam vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court held that the nomenclature “dowry” is not properly defined. It refers to a demand for money in relation to a marital relationship. The Court rejected the contention of the defendant that since he was not married to the complainant, Section 498A did not apply to him thus taking a forward-looking step in eliminating dowry from live-in relationships.
There are several questions that continue to remain outside the ambit of law such as – emotional cruelty, cheating, blackmailing, misuse of each other personal space and joint assets. These are potential minefields for couples entering into a live-in relationship.
Is a live-in relationship right for you? Take our test!
Live-in relationships, although modern in outlook, may not be the right choice for everyone. It can sometimes cause hindrance to an already perfect relationship or put unnecessary pressure on the couples to commit. Sometimes, couples move in together only because their peers are doing the same without thinking if this kind of living arrangement suits them or not.
We have a set of 10 questions to help you determine if a live-in relationship is right for you.
Answer the questions with an “yes” or “no” or “maybe”.
1. Do you trust and love your partner enough to share a life together?
2. Are you willing to turn a blind eye to scorns and disapproval from others around you and not let it get in the way of your happiness?
3. Do you see yourself getting married to your partner at least within a few years down the line?
4. Are you ready to fight for your relationship against your parents/family?
5. Are you ready to share your finances with your partner without it getting in the way of the relationship?
6. Are you ready to accept major changes in your lifestyle and accommodate another person in it?
7. Are you willing to compromise on privacy?
8. Are you willing to sacrifice things that are important to you but disliked by your partner?
9. Would your interest in the relationship remain unaffected if your sex life loses momentum after moving in together?
10. Is this what I really want? Is my heart completely set on this without an ounce of doubt? Is she/he really the woman/man who I want to be with?
You get 1 point for every “yes” and no points for every “no” or “maybe”.
Ready for a live-in relationship: If your score is more than 6 out of 10, then there isn’t a shred of doubt that you and partner are ready for a live-in relationship.
May not be the right time: If you have scored between 4/10 and 6/10, you are still getting there but it’s not the right time to live together yet.
You are definitely not ready: If you scored less than 4/10, then you are quite far away from considering a live-in relationship. In fact, you still need to work on your relationship and build understanding and trust.
We predict a growing tide
As India gets exposed to the outside world, cultural influences such as dating are becoming increasingly acceptable. As young people move up the social chain because of better job opportunities and exposure, they are bound to question the norms about marriage and relationship. Hence, we foresee an uptick in the number of couples who will choose live-in relationships as the first step before getting hitched.
Live-in relationships, despite its disadvantages, is a litmus test for a couple before they decide to get married. Some of the obvious causes of divorce such as marrying for the wrong reasons, incompatibility leading to conflicts, and unmet expectations come to light only after marriage. A live-in arrangement provides an opportunity for the couple to rule them out before committing to a marriage.
If live-in relationships were made socially acceptable in India, we guess more people would opt for it and solve their relationship problems at an early stage before getting married. It would save a lot of pain and heartbreak as well.
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