The Delhi High Court has noted that although live-in relationships are not legally recognized, they are not considered criminal, and therefore, courts cannot impose their moral judgments on consenting adults in such relationships. In an order dated September 13, a single-judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma emphasized that adults have the freedom to make such choices unless they violate any existing laws.
“Live-in relationship between two consenting married adults, who are married to different partners, has not been made criminal or legislated against…This Court holds that the parties herein have the right to determine their own choices, life, and actions, but at the same time, should remain conscious of the repercussion it invites from their partners and its effect on their marriage." (as reported by Indian Express)
“Courts of law cannot impose their own perception of morality on individuals who are adults and make free adult choices if such choices are not illegal or an offence under the present framework of law”.
The court emphasized that it would be risky to label acts as criminal when they have not been legislated against based on perceived morality.
Justice Sharma noted that a live-in relationship typically involves two individuals living together in a domestic arrangement without a formal marriage, and under Indian laws, it lacks specific legal recognition as it remains undefined.
These observations were made in a case where a man sought the quashing of an FIR filed against him under various sections, including rape, criminal intimidation, and insulting the modesty of a woman. The complainant alleged that the man had engaged in physical relations with her under the false pretext of marriage, initially presenting himself as unmarried. Later, when she discovered he was already married, he assured her he would obtain a divorce and marry her. The man claimed that the woman had created a "live-in relationship agreement" and forged his signature on it.
The court concluded that the woman had willingly entered into a live-in relationship with the man, believing him to be unmarried initially as per their agreement. Despite being aware of both parties' marital status, she chose to continue the relationship, indicating her consent to maintain the relationship despite legal obstacles to marriage without divorce.
Regarding the agreement, the court noted that it did not mention any promise of marriage by the man.
“This Court observes that a critical aspect of this case is the complainant’s marital status; she was not legally divorced from her previous partner. Given this, it becomes evident that the petitioner could not have entered into a legal marriage with her. Consequently, there was no valid basis for the complainant to entertain the notion of promise of a marriage from the petitioner, as she, by virtue of her existing marriage, was ineligible to marry the present petitioner,” the court said.
The High Court, however, expressed the view that while immorality on the part of the woman had been extensively discussed before the court, the same standard should apply to the male partner. The court stressed that no distinction should be made based on gender, as doing so would perpetuate misogynistic thinking.