The article ‘Evolving concept of family as per recent judicial developments’ by Shivani Sangwan elucidates that over the span of time, there have been various developments in the definition of the term ‘family’. A household may be single-parent for many reasons, including the death of a spouse, separation, or divorce. Similarly, the guardians and caretakers (who traditionally occupy the roles of the “mother” and the “father”) of children may change with remarriage, adoption, or fostering. The author has dealt in detail with the remarkable judgments and their positive impact on our society.
Traditional families – a brief overview
The basic idea of an Indian family is its joint nature which is a normal condition in Hindu society. Its origin can be traced to an ancient patriarchial system where the patriarch or the head of the family was the unquestioned ruler, laying down norms for his family members to follow, obeyed by everyone in his family, and having unparallel control over their lives and properties.
Under Hindu law, therefore, the joint family system came first in historical order, and the individual recognition of a person distinct from the family came later. As per Hindu law, the Hindu joint family consists of male members descended lineally from a common male ancestor together with their mothers, wives, widows, and unmarried daughters.
The father was the head of the family and was styled grihapati or dampati or Karta. The Rig Veda refers to the fathers as the symbol of all goodness and kindness. Furthermore, the Hindu joint family is described as purely a creature of law because it cannot be created by the act of the members or an agreement between the parties. Thus, as a general presumption, a Hindu family is considered a joint Hindu family and continues to be joint unless the contrary is proved.
Typical families and their standing
With the emerging trends, there has been an emergence of typical families. These are the families which fail to fulfill all the necessary conditions as per the traditional definition of the family. There are incidents that lead to the formation of typical families. Typical families are the result of certain prevailing situations wherein the foundation of a family remains undisturbed. Typical families comprise the following situation:
- single parenthood
- live-in relationships
- same-sex families
Single-parenthood households have become increasingly common in developed countries. When a parent is permanently absent from the home due to a death, divorce, separation, desertion, or even unwed motherhood, or when the absence is just temporary, such as when a parent moves away for work or is imprisoned for an extended length of time, a single-parent family may be formed. The vast majority of single parents in the nation, the majority of whom are women, do so out of necessity. People assume single mothers make terrible decisions, are uncaring parents, and even doubt their moral character.
In order to support single parenthood, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in the matter of ABC v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2015), stated that while an unmarried woman might simply be the child’s legal guardian, there is no requirement for her to reveal the identity of the child’s father.
A live-in relationship could be defined as Continuous cohabitation for a long period of time between partners who are not married to each other legally and are sharing a common household. According to Indian law, living together as consenting adults is not deemed to be unlawful. Despite being viewed as immoral, a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of the opposite sex is not illegal, according to a 2006 ruling in the case Lata Singh v. State of U.P.(2006). The Supreme Court in Tulsa v. Durghatiya(2018), stated that children born from live-in relationships would not be treated as illegitimate if their parents would have lived under one roof and shared a residence for a significant amount of time in order to be recognized as husbands and wife and it must not be a “walk in and walk out” relationship.
Furthermore, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 allows women in live-in relationships to seek protection and also allows them to make maintenance claims as per the decision in D. Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal(2010). In the case of Lalita Toppo v. State of Jharkhand(2018), the Supreme Court had to decide whether the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, applied to live-in relationships. The victim, i.e., the divorced wife or live-in partner, would be entitled to relief under the Act in a shared household, it was decided. The court granted alimony to a woman in a live-in relationship under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act Act, 2005, citing this report in Ajay Bhardwaj v. Jyotsna.
Four years after the Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex between consenting adults in 2018, same-sex marriages are neither recognized by India’s matrimonial laws nor are such couples permitted to receive social welfare benefits as a family. The Supreme Court stated that it was not bound by the traditional definition of a “family” in these modern times, both in law and society, noting that a “family” typically consists of a mother, a father (who remains consistent over time), and their offspring.
This presumption ignores the fact that many families do not initially correspond to this expectation and the numerous factors that may cause a shift in one’s familial structure. Domestic partnerships, unmarried unions, and LGBTQ unions are all examples of familial connections.
Nowadays, people often remarry after a divorce or death of their partner, but these remarriages do not bar the individuals to lay down a foundation of a family nor do they bar the individuals to include their children from the first marriage in the new family. A similar viewpoint was laid down by the Madras High Court, wherein it was held that a widow who has since remarried is not prohibited from seeking custody of a child from her first marriage. The judgment was delivered by a division bench of Justices S. Tamilvanan and C.T. Selvam while granting Subha, a widow, her request for habeas corpus.
Supreme Court opinion on changing dimensions of family in light of Deepika Singh v. Central Administrative Tribunal(2022),
“Manifestations of love and of families may not be typical but they are as real as their traditional counterparts. Such a typical manifestations of the family unit are equally deserving not only of protection under the law but also of the benefits available under social welfare legislation”
Recently, observations were made by a bench made up of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna in a decision rendered on August 16th, 2022 while granting maternity leave to a Central Government employee despite the fact that she had used child care leave for the children of her husband from his previous marriage.
The court decision concerned maternity leave benefits for a lady who had adopted her husband’s children from a previous marriage before becoming pregnant with her own child. She applied for maternity leave in June 2019 while employed as a nursing officer at Chandigarh’s Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), but was rejected on the grounds that the policy stated clearly that the leave could only be granted if she had fewer than two living children. The regulations call for an 18-day paid maternity leave. She appeared before the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Central Administrative Tribunal, but she lost both cases. The Supreme Court overturned the prior ruling and ruled that the woman’s right to take maternity leave for her only biological kid would not be affected by the grant of child care leave with regard to her stepchildren.
It was held that the Maternity Benefit Act and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which mandates that the State can establish favourable rules to safeguard the interests of women, Rule 43 of the Central Civil Services (Leave Rules) of 1972 must be interpreted with a purpose in mind. “The right to reproduction and child-rearing has been recognized as an important facet of a person’s right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity under Article 21,” the court added, citing additional international conventions on motherhood.” The Maternity Benefit of 1961 was enacted to secure women’s right to pregnancy and maternity leave and to afford women with as much flexibility as possible to live an autonomous life, both as a mother and as a worker, if they so desire.
Impact on society
Considering the decision of the Supreme Court, it could be interpreted that the decision makers are trying to establish a society with modern and analytical thinking. The impact of the decision on society could be summarized as:
The judgment provides the individual more freedom to lay down a relationship with a partner of his/her choice. Furthermore, the decision also highlights the legality of same-sex relationships.
Protection of women
It is observed that women often are victims of various illegal acts arising in a relationship. Therefore, the court has very well laid various judgments dealing with the protection of women in live-in relationships as well as protection of their rights is ensured by various legislation dealing with different aspects of their lives.
Sanctity of relationships
Typical families arise out of various situations as discussed above and these situations still remain to be taboo in Indian society. The people do not accept them and are often the prey to hatred. The judgment would help provide atypical families a shield from such hatred and abuse by maintaining the sanctity of the relationships existing in those families.
In conclusion, contrary to the traditional family setup, Domestic family partnerships, unmarried unions, and LGBTQ unions are all examples of familial connections. Any number of circumstances, such as the demise of a spouse, a separation, or a divorce, might result in a home having only one parent. Similar to this, remarriage, adoption, or foster care may result in a change in the guardians and carers of children (who traditionally play the roles of “mother” and “father”). These examples of family and love may not be the norm, but they are just as genuine as those. Such unusual family unit manifestations are equally entitled to legal protection and the benefits provided by social welfare legislation. The black letter of the law cannot be used to discriminate against non-traditional families.
 Deepika Singh v. Central Administrative Tribunal, 2022 (SC) 718
 Surjit Lal Chhabda v. CIT, (1975) 101 ITR 776
 Jaganath Misra v. Loknath Misra, AIR (1981)
 Raghavamma v. Chenchamma, AIR 1964 SC 136
 ABC v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2015) 10 SCC 1
 Lata Singh v. State of U.P, AIR 2006 SC 2522
 Tulsa v. Durghatiya, AIR 2008 SC 1193
 D.Velusamy v. D.Patchaiammal, Special Leave Petition (Crl.) Nos.2273-2274/2010
 Lalita Toppo v. State of Jharkhand, Criminal Appeal No(S). 1656/2015