Maintenance for live-in woman: issue for larger Bench

The Supreme Court has referred to a larger Bench a question of law whether a man and woman living together for long, without a valid marriage, would raise a presumption of valid marriage entitling her to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.PC.
A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, though prima facie held the view that women in live-in relationships would be entitled to maintenance, referred the issue to Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia for determination by a larger Bench having regard to the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which provided for maintenance.
The Bench framed questions including “whether a marriage performed according to customary rites and ceremonies, without strictly fulfilling the requisites of Section 7(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, or any other personal law would entitle the woman to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.PC. We think the larger Bench may also consider the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act. This Act assigns a very broad and expansive definition to the term `domestic abuse’ to include even economic abuse. Therefore, women in live-in relationships are also entitled to all reliefs given under the Act.” Writing the judgment, Justice Ganguly quoted from the rulings of the House of Lords and the Privy Council to hold that cohabitation, with the required repute, as husband and wife was proof that the parties between themselves had mutually contracted the matrimonial relationship. The Bench noted that in the instant case both appellant Chanmuniya and first respondent Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha were related and lived in the same house and by a social custom were treated as husband and wife. Their marriage was solemnised with ‘katha’ and ‘sindur’. “Therefore, following the ratio of the decisions of the House of Lords, this court thinks there is a very strong presumption in favour of marriage.”

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