Long cohabitation of couples is presumption of marriage, says SC

The Supreme Court has held that if a man and a woman are residing together for a long time and have been accepted by the society as husband and wife, a presumption of a valid marriage can be drawn.

“A long cohabitation and acceptance of society of a man and woman as husband and wife goes a long way in establishing
a valid marriage,” a Bench of Justices S B Sinha and Cyriac Joseph observed.

The Bench said when disputes of valid marriages comes into question, courts can rely not only on the various material placed before it, but also draw a presumption on the basis of the conduct between the two parties. “In arriving at a finding of fact, indisputably the learned trial judge was not only entitled to analyse the evidences brought on record by the parties so as to come to a conclusion as to whether all the ingredients of a valid marriage as contained in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 stand established or not.

“A presumption of a valid marriage having regard to the fact that they had been residing together for a long time and has been accepted in society as husband and wife, could also be drawn,” the apex court said.

The Bench passed the ruling while dismissing an appeal of one Challamma, who questioned the claim of a woman’s marriage to her deceased son K Subramanya.
Prior to his marriage, Subramanya had nominated his mother Challamma as nominee in his insurance policies. After his death, Challamma sought the entire survival benefit accruing from the insurance policies to herself. She claimed that the other claimant, Tilaga, was not married to his son as there was no valid proof of the same. But the trial court awarded Challama only one-fourth of the amount and the remaining went to Tilaga, whose marriage with Subramanya was accepted by the judge on the basis of the material evidence produced before it.

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Challama appealed to the Karnataka High Court but it dismissed her plea. She later approached the apex court. Rejecting her plea, the apex court said the question as to whether a valid marriage had taken place between deceased Subramanya and Tilaga is essentially a question of fact. In the present case, the wife had proved with material facts that she had married Subramanya and lived with him for over three years, the apex court said. Whereas, Challama could not adduce sufficient evidence to prove her charges, it noted. “A heavy burden, thus, lies on the person who seeks to prove that no marriage has taken place,” the Bench said. Further, the apex court said a nominee could not be treated as being equivalent to an heir or legatee. “The amount of interest under the policy could, therefore, be claimed by the heirs of the assured in accordance with the law of succession governing them,” the Bench added while dismissing the mother-in-law’ s appeal

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