A diva, charmer of the hearts and one of Bollywood’s veterans, actress Zeenat Aman has been making news forever, be it for her sensual performances or her woke opinions. The actress has especially been in the spotlight since her Instagram debut. Recently, her unabashedly honest attitude once again stirred up conversations online when the actress spoke in support of live-in relationships.   

Her relationship advice also received flak from her counterparts in the industry who believe that the concept of live-in relationships – a concept of the Western culture, goes against Indian customs and values.  

This is not the first time that the topic of live-in relationships has attracted such extreme reactions, despite it being legal in India. Mid-day.com spoke to legal and relationship experts who list down a guide for couples considering living together.   

Ruchi Ruuh (@therapywithruchi), a relationship counsellor and therapist tells us that a large part of India remains resistant to live-in relationships due to traditional values and cultural beliefs. “Many view live-in relationships as a direct challenge to Indian customs and values. We traditionally emphasise marriage as the only acceptable way to live together. Love marriage too, is still a taboo and parents prefer arranging a match for their children. Lots of parents and even couples fear the judgement and criticism that might come from society. We also still have a narrow view of premarital sex and exploration.”  

Yet, Ruuh highlights, “The Indian society is gradually becoming more open to the concept of live-in relationships, particularly in urban areas. It`s happening due to more open conversations within society and family about the changing relationship needs. Exposure to global cultures is also helping Indian society evolve its values. Moreover, Indian courts and laws have also recognised live-in relationships, providing some legal protection.”

Legality of live-in relationships in India 
“Live-in relationships are thought of as another curse of the West on our cultural and religious beliefs, however, that being said, it is not illegal in India if two consenting adults decide to cohabit,” says Bhaavya Roy, managing partner and founder, Kranti Law Offices.

However, such partnerships and relationships aren’t common and socially accepted yet, and hence, do not have well-defined and specific laws, which leaves crucial aspects of the union up for interpretation, particularly when it comes to property rights, financial obligations, and the status of kids born out of these kinds of partnerships.  

As a result, couples go through social stigma and other challenges. “This is not to say that the Indian Supreme Court hasn’t recognised the legal status of cohabitation. It has also highlighted the need to safeguard the rights of those who live together,” says Shreya Sharma, founder, Rest The Case. 
Sharma tells Mid-day.com about some significant legal rulings and factors about cohabitation in India. These involve:  

The Domestic Violence Act of 2005 
This act protects women who are in marriage and even those who are in live-in relationships. The Supreme Court had stated that women in live-in relationships who might experience abuse of any sort, including physical, verbal, emotional, or financial, have all the rights to claim protection under this Act. 

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 
Regardless of whether a woman is in a live-in relationship or is legally married to the male of the home, this Act recognises a woman`s right to reside in a shared household. Live-in relationships are included in the definition of a “relationship like marriage” in this clause. It gives women in these kinds of partnerships access to the Act`s protections. 

“Through several rulings and judgments, the Indian Supreme Court has upheld that live-in relationships are legal and should be granted the status of a couple. Such rulings provide legal protection to couples,” says Sharma.  

Additionally, Roys adds, “After a decade-long tussle between the morality and legality of live-in relationships, the Supreme Court also decided to strengthen the legitimacy of the same by stating that children have a right to property as per a co-parenting agreement and/or to the self-acquired property of the parents.”  

Exploring the benefits of live-in relationships for couples  
Nikita Girdhar (@off.yourshoulders), therapist and relationship expert, Off Your Shoulders Psychotherapy, opines, “When we talk about the transitioning from singlehood to partnership, our identity and our mindset needs to make a shift from “ME” to “WE”. I truly think that especially in the Indian context, where families get so involved and attached post-marriage, couples need to form a strong WE identity before families are involved. This helps both partners support each other and have each other’s backs when families pose obstacles. I believe a live-in relationship may solidify the “WE” identity.”  

She says, “Live-in relationships help partners practise togetherness living under the same roof daily. Partners can explore how they manage chores together, financial habits, fluctuating sex drives, ways to deal with conflicts and other behavioural aspects.”   

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Before entering into a live-in relationship, Ruuh suggests considering the following factors:  
1. Please ensure that both partners enthusiastically consent to living together. Let no one feel pressured to get into a situation they don`t want to. 
2. Maintain open and honest communication about expectations, boundaries and plans like marriage. 
3. Discuss how expenses will be shared and managed by the couple. Try keeping a track of the expenses so that no one feels cheated in the end. 
4. Respect each other`s need for personal space. Living together doesn`t mean that you cannot have a life of your own. It is important that your’s and your partner`s space is well respected. 
5. Discuss long-term goals such as marriage, career aspirations and family planning beforehand.  
6. Understand the legal implications and your rights with live-in relationships before you start living together. 

Commenting on conveying one’s decision to enter a live-in relationship to parents, Girdhar states, that for some couples, sometimes, no persuasion/communication stands to change their parents’ mind because they fear of what a live-in relationship will mean for your well-being and your reputation in the society.  

“However, if there is any scope for convincing, take the adult route. An adult doesn’t throw a fit, beg/plead or threaten. An adult is gentle, assertive, honest, clear and concise about how they feel.  It’s important for you to first understand why this live-in relationship is important in your journey towards marriage. Show confidence in this path – not that it will surely go as planned but that if things go badly, you will be able to cope with the consequences. Besides, if living with your partner is more important than maintaining a relationship with your parents (this is fully possible and understandable, just think it thoroughly through) then remember that you are an adult and that you don’t technically need anyone’s permission.”  

Legal challenges couples in live-in relationships face 
In India, there is still a hue and cry about inter-faith marriages, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. Therefore social stigma engulfing live-in relationships too, is massive and often becomes a source of agony for families of the individuals, following which the moral policing by the society makes this lifestyle choice a constant struggle. Roy states, “There are abundant legal challenges faced by persons in live-in relationships. The nature, duration and sexual intimacy are factors which are taken into account while extending the limited legal protection, which in more ways than one is invasive of the personal liberty and privacy of the parties involved. Further, there is no relief or benefits in taxation, social security, property and housing.”  

She adds, “Since the live-in union is considered a valid marriage only in certain circumstances, it still does not come within the ambit of the Hindu Marriage Act, hence there is no bar on the parties to enter into an agreement with regard to their finances, inheritance, property, social welfare benefits etc.”  

Further, as stated by Sharma, the lack of legality and clarity in Indian laws causes the society to discriminate against individuals who are in live-in relationships. Women in live-in relationships, especially, may be more vulnerable when there are no legal protections, particularly in situations where there may be disagreements or abandonment and no appropriate legal redress.”  

To prevent legal complications, Roy suggests couples willing to enter into a live-in relationship to be of legal age. This can help avoid the relationship being a criminal offence.  

Housing challenges
Sharing her own experience, Roy states, “The progress in our nation is at snail speed, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, it’s a hassle for even single women to get housing, let alone live-in couples. Most Resident Welfare Associations have hanging boards that read ‘Tenants and Bachelors not allowed’. While I was a single lady lawyer living in Delhi, I had to provide a letter from my employer that I was employed with them. Subsequently, my partner and I had the lease signed in both our names and individually provided the security deposit.”  

Despite the challenges, Sharma says that there are several ways couples can safeguard their rights and ensure fair treatment.

1. Legal agreements and documentation 
Rental agreement:
Joint tenancy: Ensure both partners` names are on the rental agreement. This formaliSes the tenancy and provides legal protection to both parties. 
Lease clauses: Include specific clauses that outline the rights and responsibilities of both tenants, covering aspects like rent payment, maintenance, and notice periods. 

2. Legal frameworks and fights 
Right to Reside: Section 2(f) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) includes live-in relationships under “relationships in the nature of marriage,” granting women the right to reside in a shared household. 
Protection from eviction: Women in live-in relationships can seek protection against wrongful eviction and harassment under this Act. 

Tips to go about entering a live-in relationship 
“The Uttarakhand Assembly on February 7 passed the UCC (Uniform Civil Code) bill, which may serve as a template for other BJP-run states to enact similar legislation. UCC calls for the registration of live-in relationships just like marriages and states that live-in partners must not be under 18. However, this process is yet to come into effect, and training and other aspects of the registrations are awaited and limited to the state of Uttarakhand as of now,” informs Sharma.  

Here are some of the things couples can do for mutual understanding:  
1. Open communication: Discuss your decision to live together openly and honestly with each other, and if possible, with your families to manage expectations and potential backlash. 

2. Legal documentation: Although not mandatory, drafting a cohabitation agreement can help outline financial arrangements, property rights, and responsibilities, providing a level of legal clarity. 

3. Financial planning: Open a joint bank account for shared expenses and keep clear records of contributions to avoid future disputes. 

4. Healthcare and emergency contacts: Ensure both partners are listed as emergency contacts and consider setting up a medical directive or power of attorney. 

5. Living arrangements: Choose a residence that is mutually convenient and secure, considering factors such as proximity to work, safety and social acceptance. 

6. Support networks: Build a support network of friends and allies who are understanding and supportive of your living arrangement. 

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