For a child to claim the status of a legitimate child born through live-in relationships, the partners must have resided under a roof for a long period. Such a child can then claim the right over ancestral property.
THERE have been growing instances of people engaging in live-in relationships. Being an emerging concept, it presents challenges before the judiciary to interpret the laws with respect to various rights and obligations on the partners involved and the children born out of it. In a recent verdict, the hon’ble Supreme Court has held that even children born out of a live-in relationship have the coparcenary right in the ancestral property. The two judge bench comprising of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Vikram Nath while ruling over an appeal filed against the Kerala High Court came to this conclusion in the case ofKattukandi Edathil Krishnan & Anr vs Kattukandi Edathil Valsan & Ors.
The Leaflet breaks down the Supreme Court’s judgment in this case in this explainer:
What are the facts of the case?
The case relates to a property dispute in a Thiyya family of Calicut governed by Mitakashara school of law under Hindu Family Law. There was one Kattukand Edathil Karanan Vaidyar, who had four sons Damodaran, Achuttan, Sekharan and Narayan. Achuttan was married and had a son named Karunakaran, the Defendant 1 in this case. Plaintiffs have contended that Damodaran had married one Chiruthakutty in 1940 and had Plaintiff 1 as their son. The other two sons of Kuttukand died as bachelors.
Damodaran married one Chiruthakutty in 1940 and had a son Krishanan (Plaintiff 1) in 1942. Plaintiff said that he shifted his residence along with his mother after the demise of his father Damodaran. In 1985, the issue arose, when, after the death of his mother, Plaintiff 1 was not given payments and his share in the coparcenary property. Plaintiff contended that being the legitimate son of his parents, he was entitled to a share in the ancestral property.
Defendants contended that Plaintiff 1 was not entitled to any share of property as he was not the legitimate son born out of a wedlock. This is based on the claim that there was no valid marriage between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty.
How did the trial court and the high court decide the matter?
The trial court decided in favour of Plaintiff 1 and held that the long cohabitation between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty forms the basis on which the existence of marriage could be concluded thus making plaintiff a son born out of wedlock. It ordered the property to be divided into two parts, and one to be given to Plaintiff 1.
This was appealed in the Kerala High Court which held that the Plaintiff 1 was son of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty. However, the evidence produced does not prove a valid marriage taking place between the two. This made Plaintiff 1 an illegitimate child and hence disentitling him from any share in property. The case then came to the Supreme Court.
What were the issues before the Supreme Court?
The issues before the Supreme Court were whether the plaintiff was a valid son of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty born in a wedlock; and what is the status of children born in a relationship of long cohabitation.
What are the relevant legal provisions in this case?
The case falls under the realm of personal laws relating to inheritance in a Hindu family.
Section 114 of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 ( Order XX Rule 18) are relevant legal provisions.
“The law has a presumption in favour of marriage and not concubinage; therefore, live-in relationships have an advantage of a long cohabitation which gives a presumption in their favour thus enhancing the claim of legitimacy of the children born out of such relationship.
Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act deals with the presumption of existence of certain facts. It says, “The court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in relation to the facts of the particular case.” This provision has been used while establishing cohabitation between partners based on the evidence produced.
Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; Order XX Rule 18 relates to the decree in suit for partition of property or separate possession of a share therein. Rule 18(2) says,” if and in so far as such decree relates to any other immovable property or to movable property, the court may, if partition or separation cannot be conveniently made without further inquiry, pass a preliminary decree declaring the rights of the several parties, interested in the property and giving such further directions as may be required.”
This was applied in this case as the Supreme Court expressed its disappointment over the enforcement of the decree of the court.
However, in this analysis this will not be taken up as it does not form the issue of contention, and is also not much relevant from a jurisprudence point of view.
How did the Supreme Court come to its conclusion?
In the case, the rights of the plaintiff were examined and his claim was carefully tested to allow him a share in the ancestral property. Firstly, the status of marriage between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty was to be ascertained. For proving that there was a valid marriage, a long cohabitation was to be proved.
In the case ofBadri Prasad vs Deputy Director of Consolidation, (1978) the Supreme Court ruled that a strong presumption arises in favour of wedlock between the partners who have been living, for a long time, as husband and wife. This presumption, although, is rebuttable but a heavy burden lies on him, who seeks to deprive the relationship of legal origin to prove that no marriage took place.
Long before the Badri Prasad case, a position similar to this was endorsed by the Privy Council in the case ofAndrahennedige Dinohamy and Anr. v. Wijetunge Liyanapatabendige Balahamy and Ors. (1926) The council held that, “…where a man and woman are proved to have lived together as man and wife, the law will presume, unless the contrary be clearly proved, that they were living together in consequence of a valid marriage and not in a state of concubinage.”
Similarly, in many other cases this has been endorsed and is now a settled law u/s 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 that a long time of cohabitation between partners as husband and wife raises a strong presumption about them being having a valid married relation and the children born out of such a relation are legitimate children born in a wedlock.
The voluminous evidence (birth certificate, newspaper clippings, and other documents from a time period when the dispute has not arisen) produced by the Plaintiff pointed to the fact that there was a long cohabitation between Damodaran and Chiruthakutty which raises a strong presumption that there was a valid marriage between the two, as concluded by the Supreme Court and defendants failed to rebut this presumption.
This answered both the issues satisfactorily: Firstly, the Plaintiff 1 was a son of Damodaran and Chiruthakutty as they had a valid marriage the presumption of which is proved by their long cohabitation as husband and wife. Secondly, it is a well-settled law that children born out of a relationship based on a long cohabitation are legitimate children having the coparcenary rights in the property of the family in a Hindu household.
The Supreme Court, based on evidence and case law, held the Plaintiff 1 to be a legitimate child born in a wedlock, thus allowing him to inherit the share in the property owned by the family.
What are the implications of this judgment?
The judgment has answered certain grey areas of the law relating to the rights of illegitimate children. Although the term ‘illegitimate’ itself looks rather archaic and bizarre, this is how the law treats such children.
“This judgement indicates that merely terming anyone as an illegitimate child will not be sufficient to deny him/her the coparcenary rights. This judgement is a huge leap in strengthening the concept of live-in relationships in India.
This judgement indicates that merely terming anyone as an illegitimate child will not be sufficient to deny him/her the coparcenary rights. This judgement is a huge leap in strengthening the concept of live-in relationships in India.
Technically, live-in relationships are based on long cohabitation and performance of the duties as performed by husband and wife. The law has a presumption in favour of marriage and not concubinage; therefore, live-in relationships have an advantage of a long cohabitation which gives a presumption in their favour thus enhancing the claim of legitimacy of the children born out of such relationship.
Although important, this is not the first time the Supreme Court has endorsed the rights of children born through live-in relations. In the case ofTulsa & Ors vs Durghatiya & Ors, (2008), the Supreme Court laid down the status of children born through live-in relationships. For a child to claim the status of a legitimate child born through live-in relationships, the partners must have resided under a roof for a long period. Such a child can then claim the right over ancestral property. This case has endorsed the long cohabitation point.
Similarly, in the case ofBharatha Matha vs R Vijay Renganathan & Ors (2010) , the Supreme Court held that the children born through live-in relations will be considered legitimate children and will be allowed share in the ancestral undivided property.
Therefore, the present case is a further boost in the status of live-in relations and helps in enhancing the liberty of people in a modern society.