The times, they are, a-changing. The final draft of Madhya Pradesh’s Women’s Policy, 2013 – 2017 recognises the need to protect the legal rights of partners in live-in relationships. Yesterday’s controversial order of the Madras High Court equated some such relationships to marriage. Justice Karnan’s order protects the rights of women in partnerships outside of marriage to maintenance and the rights of children born to such couples. The Supreme Court too, in Velusamy v. Patchiammal in 2010, progressively interpreted and applied maintenance laws. It is high time the legislative machinery caught up.
Even parts of the West have been slow to accept this change. For instance, in the U.K., neither partner can legally claim maintenance after the end of such a relationship. However, children born in such relationships are guaranteed child support from the party that holds legal guardianship. Perhaps the most pragmatic view has been taken in the Netherlands. The Dutch recognise three kinds of living arrangements — co-habitation agreements, registered partnerships, and marriage. Ending or dissolving any of these may give rise to the right to maintenance and regardless of the relationship between the parents; Dutch law ensures equal parenting to children. It is time to take a leaf out of their books.
It is especially vital to provide access to basic maintenance in India, because of the large numbers without access to mainstream education. The Madhya Pradesh government will set a very good example if its innovative Draft Women’s Policy is sanctioned and implemented with the spirit intact. Similarly, it is also time to think about the innumerable women and children who can now rightfully claim a life with dignity because our courts are recognising change.
(Suhasini Rao Kashyap is part of the faculty on myLaw.net.)