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Ties that better define bonding
An increasing number of urban, well-heeled couples in live-in relationships are opting to enter contractual agreements on issues ranging from sharing of wealth to custody and upbringing of children. This, they say, allows them to better define their relationship and give it some semblance of legality.
Take the example of 31-year-old Abhinav Sule and his 26-year-old partner Gouri Joshi (names changed). Sule's first marriage had broken down within a year over lack of communication between husband and wife. Three years ago, he met Gouri and the couple started living together. Once Sule's divorce is finalised he hopes to marry Gouri but till then he wants their relationship to be conducted along agreed lines.
"We entered into a special legal agreement that includes clauses on everything that we want and don't want to share in the future in case our relationship doesn't work out, " says Sule. The couple has a one-and-a-half year old daughter, and close family and friends support the couple's decision.
"Our relationship is based on mutual understanding and therefore, after detailed discussion with my partner, we decided to include elaborate clauses on sharing/division of property, custody and upbringing of our daughter, the unresolved nature of my marriage, and our long-term goal to get married once my divorce is finalised, " he explains.
Counsellor Rajendra Bhavalkar points out that men and women who get into relationships after a bad marriage like to avoid the whole emotional baggage associated with matrimony. But they also seek legal binds that would spare them any muck-raking in case either partner decides to walk out. Distribution of wealth and custody of child born out of the relationship are the two major clauses in such a legal document which protect the couples from allegations of rape or misuse of personal wealth.
"Earlier, very few agreed to enter such agreements. Today, about 20 to 30 per cent live-in couples accept these terms and conditions. The agreement is notarised on a stamp paper worth Rs 100 which is valid in the court of law, " says Amarnath Vibhute, a lawyer at the Pune family court.
The lawyer says that the trend of live-in couples signing an agreement, with clauses pertaining to the Contract Act, has increased by over a half in the last few years. "Most livein couples do not feel the need for such a contract as they think an understanding will suffice. But now lawyers advise them on the need to enter such legal deals, " said Vibhute.
In a sense, the contract also tests the couple's sense of commitment and responsibility, says lawyer Rama Sarode. Couples who enter such agreements do so with a certain maturity and foresight. "If they choose to part ways, the process is often amicable. Such a contract has evidential value in the court of law, " she says.
Counsellor Bhavalkar who also runs a bureau for those looking to remarry says that some of his clients want to first try out a live-in relationship with potential spouses. Every month he gets inquiries from 15-20 singletons looking to get into a live-in relationship. "These are well-to-do upper middle class men and women, mostly aged 25-35. They want to consider a live-in relationship with a like-minded partner before heading for a second marriage, " says Bhavalkar.
His estimate is that in Pune live-in relationships have grown by around 15 per cent in the last two years. "Youngsters today choose to live life on their own terms and want to specify these before they enter a relationship. These terms are then specified in the contract they sign, which saves them future trips to the court, " he says.
Himali Sadekar, 39, opted for a divorce after 12 years of marriage and now prefers a live-in partner with whom she has signed a contract. "I want a relationship based on mutual understanding and respect wherein we both enjoy our individual space. A contract to this effect will make certain things clear to both of us, helping us connect better, " says Sadekar, a counsellor.
Family court lawyer Deepa Mavinkurve believes that this trend guarantees legal security, especially to women. "It is the financially empowered woman from the upper middle class who is able to make a choice regarding a live-in relationship, which is still considered a very bold step in a country like India, " she says.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
As per the Supreme Court judgement of 2010, live-in relationships are now legally recognised in the country. In the S Khushboo v/s Kannlammal and Anr (2010) case, the court ruled thus: "While it is true that the mainstream view in our society is that sexual contact should take place only between marital partners, there is no statutory offence that takes place when adults willingly engage in sexual relations outside the marital setting, with the exception of 'adultery' as defined under Section 497 IPC. "
The aggrieved party in a live-in relationship can also claim alimony and maintenance with the help of the Domestic Violence Act 2005 as this law is applicable to persons suffering from any kind of domestic violence or disagreement, irrespective of the marital status of their relationship, says lawyer, Amarnath Vibhute.
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