Any unmarried couple who lives as husband and wife are to be presumed legally married and in such cases, the woman would be legally eligible to inherit the property of her partner after his death, said a ruling by the Supreme Court of India.
A bench comprising Justices Amitava Roy and MY Eqbal stated that continuous cohabation of a couple would naturally raise the presumption of a valid marriage and hence, the onus will be on the opposite party to prove that they were not legally married.
“It is well settled that the law presumes in favour of marriage and against concubinage, when a man and woman have cohabited continuously for a long time. However, the presumption can be rebutted by leading unimpeachable evidence. A heavy burden lies on a party who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin,” the bench said.
The court ruled this while hearing a property dispute filed by the grandchildren of a now-deceased man who had been living with a woman for 20 years after his wife’s death. The family members claimed that the woman was not legally eligible to inherit the property of the man as they were not married.
The woman, despite failing to prove that she was legally wedded to the deceased man, had the ruling in her favor on the premise that she had been in a relationship with the man for a long time and also shared the same roof with the rest of his family.
Since 2010, the Supreme Court has been regularly and consistently lending its voice in favor of live-in couples and considering them as husband and wife. This also ensures that the women in such relationships the rights of a wife.
“Where a man and woman are proved to have lived together as husband and wife, the law will presume, unless the contrary is clearly proved, that they were living together in consequence of a valid marriage, and not in a state of concubinage,” the bench said.
“In the fact of the case, there is strong presumption in favor of the validity of a marriage and the legitimacy of its child for the reason that the relationship is recognized by all persons concerned,” it said.
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