A woman in an adulterous relationship cannot claim maintenance from her partner under the domestic violence act as the law protects only a live-in relationship that is "in the nature of marriage", the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench headed by justice KS Radhakrishnan said the ambit of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 - which for the first time recognized a man-woman relationship outside wedlock - did not cover live-in relationships in general.
It offers protection against domestic violence to a woman in a live-in relationship that is in the nature of marriage. She is also entitled to maintenance and other benefits.
The court said extending the benefit of the act to a woman who is not in a relationship in the nature of marriage would be an injustice to the man's wife and children.
However, it added: "Live-in or marriage-like relationship is neither a crime nor a sin though socially unacceptable in this country."
"Polygamy…or a bigamous marriage…and/or maintaining an adulterous relationship… cannot be said to be a relationship in the nature of marriage," it said.
Elaborating on what should be taken into consideration to decide if a live-in relationship fell within the expression "in the nature of marriage" so as to be covered under the law, the bench listed eight parameters - duration of relationship, shared household, pooling of resources and financial arrangements, domestic arrangements, sexual relationship, children, socialization in public and intention and conduct of the parties about their relationship.
It recommended that Parliament consider a proper law to address the problems faced by a large number of women in live-in relationships that are not in the nature of marriage and, hence, not covered under the act.
The ruling came on a petition filed by a woman from Bangalore. The court rejected her claim for maintenance and independent residence from the man on the grounds that she was only a "mistress" and the relationship in question did not fall within the definition of "domestic relationship" under section 2(f) of the act.
"… If any direction is given to the respondent (man) to pay maintenance or monetary consideration to the appellant (woman), that would be at the cost of the legally-wedded wife and children of the respondent, especially when they had opposed that relationship and have a cause of action against the appellant for alienating the companionship and affection of the husband/parent…," the bench said.