A very surprising view apparently taken by the Madras High Court regarding pre-marital sex and living in, equating it to marriage at least in the given case, and probably extending it to all such situations. The news report which appeared in The Hindu is quoted below-
The court said marriage formalities as per various religious customs such as the tying of a mangalsutra, the exchange of garlands and rings or the registering of a marriage were only to comply with religious customs for the satisfaction of society.
The court further said if necessary either party to a relationship could approach a Family Court for a declaration of marital status by supplying documentary proof for a sexual relationship. Once such a declaration was obtained, a woman could establish herself as the man’s wife in government records. “Legal rights applicable to normal wedded couples will also be applicable to couples who have had sexual relationships which are established."
The court also said if after having a sexual relationship, the couple decided to separate due to difference of opinion, the ‘husband’ could not marry without getting a decree of divorce from the ‘wife’.
Justice C.S. Karnan passed the order on Monday while modifying an April 2006 judgment of a Coimbatore family court in a maintenance case involving a couple. The lower court had ordered the man to pay monthly maintenance of Rs. 500 to the couple’s two children and Rs. 1000 as litigation expenses. The lower court observed that the woman’s wedding with the man had not been proved by documentary evidence. Hence, she was not entitled to maintenance.
In her appeal to the High Court, the woman’s counsel contended that she was legally married and had two children in wedlock.
Justice Karnan said he was of the view that a valid marriage did not necessarily mean that all the customary rights pertaining to the married couple are to be followed and subsequently solemnised. In the present case, the woman and her husband had no encumbrance or other disqualification for solemnising their wedding as per their customs. For solemnising a wedding, legal aspects should be placed on a higher scale than the customary aspects. In this case, the man had signed in the ‘live birth report’ of his second child and given his consent for a Caesarean section for its birth. As such, he had officially admitted that she was his wife.
“Without legal encumbrance or third party interference or without affecting third party rights, both the petitioner and the respondent lived together as spouses and begot two children.” Therefore, the question of an illegitimate relationship did not arise. Wedding solemnisation was only a customary right, but not a mandatory one. Hence, the judge said, he was treating the couple as spouses in normal life.
“It is not disputed that the petitioner has been a spinster before she gave birth and that the respondent was a bachelor before developing sexual relationship with the petitioner. Both of them led their marital life under the same shelter and begot two children. Therefore, the petitioner’s rank has been elevated as the `wife’ of the respondent and likewise, the respondent’s rank has been elevated as the `husband’ of the petitioner. Therefore, the children born to them are legitimate children and the petitioner is the legitimate wife of the respondent.”
The judge directed the woman’s husband to pay her a monthly maintenance of Rs.500 from the date of petition, i.e. from September 2000. The arrears of maintenance up to May this year should be paid within a period of three months."
For one, the issue is tarred with a broad brush and it cannot be since there is no Uniform Civil Code in India and all major religious communities are free to follow their own customs and codified law. Two, this is for instance in utter contravention of the Hindu Marriage Act where marriage between Hindus is a sacrament. While justice may have been done in this case the applicability of the decision must necessarily be restricted to the facts of this case, and Judges usually expressly record in the Judgments in such cases that the decision would not be cited as a precedent in future cases. At the time of going to press, the Judgment itself had not been made available online and therefore there is an inevitable element of conjecture to all this.
The chart for the pronouncement is broadly as follows-