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Live-in relationship partner can claim to be legally married wife

On 23rd June 2021 the Kerala High Court consisting of Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque and Justice Kauser Edappagathdeclared in the case Rajeeve v. Sarasamma & Ors that a female partner in a live-in relationship cannot have a better claim than a legally married wife.The case came from an appeal from the decision of the family court wherein the marital status of the woman was in question. The facts of the case were that Mr.S.Reghunathan, an employee of South Western Railways, died while in service. After his death, the appellant as well as the first respondent claiming themselves to be his legally wedded wife came forward and raised rival claims before the Railways for his service benefits.The original petition was filed under Section 7 (b), (c) and (d) of the Family Courts, Act, 1984 to declare the marital status of the respondent as the wife of late Reghunathan.

To prove a valid marriage under the Hindu law, the evidence regarding the performance of marriage as required under Section 7 of the Hindu Marriage Act must be brought on record. Section 7 speaks of solemnization of marriage with customary rites and ceremonies.The respondent was able to provide evidence of her marriage with late Reghunathan. The appellant was unable to provide evidence for her marriage. Thus, the family court accorded the status of legally wedded wife to the respondent. The counsel for the appellant assailed the decision of the court and argued in the High Court that it had failed to appreciate the documentary and oral evidence of solemnization of marriage. Moreover, he argued that “ Law presumes in favourof marriage when a man and woman have cohabited continuously even if the direct evidence of marriage, if any, is unsatisfactory.”

The Kerala High Court rejected the claims of the appellant and held that “It is true that the parties to a live-in relationship or non-formal relationship who have lived together for an extended period of time could be brought within the purview of laws relating to maintenance and domestic violence and could be considered as husband and wife for the said limited purpose. But, parties to such a relationship cannot have a better claim than a legally married wife.”

On the issue of legitimacy of children, the court held that Section 7(1) read with Explanation (e) of Family Courts Act implied that only a suit for a declaration ‘as to the legitimacy of any person’ was within the family court’s jurisdiction. Legitimacy presupposes a valid marriage. This cannot be stretched to adjudicate upon legitimacy of any person born in a live-in relationship.

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