Social Policy & Administration

Courts must understand that ‘live-in’ relationships don’t need to conform to norms of marriage

Legal interventions by courts fail to make room for relationships whose creative existence is in the space between marriage and autonomy.


Rajeev Kadambi, Associate Professor, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.


Last month, the Punjab and Haryana High Court made a very dramatic volte-face on the legality of live-in relationships among couples.

In a judgment on May 11 (Gulza Kumari), it held that live-in relationships are “morally and socially not acceptable”. But a week later, the court affirmed that such relationships are not prohibited by the law (Pradeep Singh).

This inconsistency in judgments is not surprising, given the moral and social complexity of this issue. While there is much hype about “live-in” relationships today, the concept has a peculiar cultural dissonance about it when understood from the perspective of legal discourse.

It must be clarified that this is not because the notion of couples living together outside marriage did not exist before this — if anything, it is precisely the opposite. For instance, the practice of mutah or temporary marriage in the community of Shia Muslims has always existed.

The radical claim that live-in relationships are now made legal by courts conceal and subdue pre-existing widespread practices of people living-together in relations of mutual care. The vocabulary that courts use to recognise live-in relations as a facet of some newfound liberal individuality seek to then invent an identity.

The result has meant that courts have failed to properly imagine this space and instead projected the narrow standard of a marriage to certify these relations.

Published in: Indian Express

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