Live-In Relationship Not Legitimate If One Partner Is Married, No Inheritance Can Be Claimed: Madras HC

A live-in partner in this scenario cannot claim rights to succession or inheritance of the other’s property without any codified law, the high court held

The Madras High Court recently ruled that a married man’s live-in relationship with another woman is not equivalent to marriage, and the woman will be regarded as a concubine.

“A ‘concubine’ cannot maintain a relationship in the “nature of marriage” because such a relationship will not have exclusivity and will not be monogamous in character and consequently he cannot enter into relationship in the nature of a marriage,” said the bench of Justice RMT Teekaa Raman.

Consequently, a live-in partner in this scenario cannot claim rights to succession or inheritance of the other’s property without any codified law, the judge held.

Court was dealing with an appeal filed by one P. Jayachandran against a trial court decision that granted the title of a house site to his deceased live-in partner’s father, instead of to him.

Jayachandran was previously married to one Stella and had five children with her. However, he had separated from Stella and was living with one Margerette Arulmozhi. He claimed that he had married Arulmozhi.

Though Jayachandran claimed that he had taken divorce from Stella under the customary ways, there was nothing on record to show a legal divorce. 

The suit property i.e. the house site was originally allotted Jayachandran by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board. During his relationship with Arulmozhi, he executed a settlement deed in her favor, describing her as his wife. About 2.5 years later, Arulmozhi died, and Jayachandran unilaterally canceled the settlement deed a few months after her death.

Arulmozhi’s father subsequently filed a suit seeking declaration of his title over the house site and delivery of possession, based on the settlement deed executed by Jayachandran. He argued that under Section 42 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, he was entitled to inherit his daughter’s property, asserting that Jayachandran could not legally cancel the settlement deed since there was no legal marriage between Jayachandran and Arulmozhi.

In appeal, Jayachandran’s counsel argued that Jayachandran and Arulmozhi’s relationship was “in the nature of marriage” since he had divorced his first wife in customary ways. The counsel further submitted that in her service records as a Headmistress in the Panchayat Union School, Arulmozhi had nominated him as her husband for all the terminal benefits including the Special Provident Fund cum Gratuity Scheme, Family Pension Scheme.

The single judge bench observed that under the Indian Christian Marriage Act, a plea of “customary divorce is not permitted” and divorce between Christians has to be effected only on certain grounds that have been described under Section 10 of the Indian Divorce Act.

Court held that the alleged marriage of Jayachandran with Arulmozhi was during the subsisting of his valid marriage with Stella which was not dissolved by a competent court under the Indian Divorce Act, hence, a mere statement in the service records for nomination could not not cloth Jayachandran as Arulmozhi’s husband.

Court opined that in view of the settlement deed executed by Jayachandran in favour of Arulmozhi, she became the absolute owner of the suit property.

Court noted that Arulmozhi died living behind her father and as per Section 42 of the Indian Succession Act, the father was entitled to succeed the suit property.

Apart from that, court observed that the terms “live-in” relationship or marriage-like relationship are often interchanged or misused and the distinction between them has to be noted. 

“Relationship of marriage” continues, notwithstanding the fact that there are differences of opinions, marital unrest etc., even if they are not sharing a shared household, being based on law. But “live-in-relationship” is purely an arrangement between the parties unlike, a legal marriage. Once a party to a live-in-relationship determines that he/she does not wish to live in such a relationship, that relationship comes to an end, the single judge bench pointed out. 

Court held that since Jayachandran entered into a live-in relationship with Arulmozhi despite knowing he was already married, the presumption that a man and woman living together as husband and wife are in a valid marriage does not apply in his case. Therefore, his relationship with Arulmozhi (now deceased) cannot not considered a relationship in the nature of marriage, court held. 

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court has held that all live-in relationships are not relationships in the nature of marriage,” court clarified. 

Furthermore, court referred to the recent ruling of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court that a follower of Islam cannot be in a live-in relationship, particularly if his spouse is alive.

Consequently, court confirmed the decision of the trial court and dismissed the appeal filed by Jayachandran.

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