SPS Balasubramanyam vs. Suruttayan (1992)

By admin Jun21,2024

This article is written by Sakshi Raje. This case study provides a detailed analysis of the landmark judgement of S.P.S Balasubramanyam vs. Suruttayan (AIR 1992 SC 756), which further elaborates on the facts of the case, issues, and critical analysis of the case. This article also discusses the highlights of the judgement, such as live-in relationships, the legitimacy of children, and other presumptions related to marriage. 

In a world where traditional norms are being redefined, the concept of live-in relationships has emerged as a new approach to companionship and romance, i.e. a kind of mechanism where couples can explore the freedom and the sense of compatibility with their partner, without the immediate pressure of marriage. However, the societal acceptance of this new concept is still very limited and is leading to many legal battles, like the one that has been dealt with in the present case by the Judiciary, where the major concern was raised in regard to the right of a child born out such relationship are legitimate and whether they enjoy the same status as that of a legitimate child in the share of ancestral and coparcenary property. 

The Judiciary being one of the main institutions in addressing such conflict has taken a progressive approach to such social evolution. The judiciary with its wider interpretation of law and protective stance strives to protect the rights of individuals who have opted for such arrangements by providing them protection and recognition similar to that of rights traditionally reserved for married couples. As in the present case, it was accepted that the couples living together for a longer period of time and having a child born out of that relation can be called a legitimate child and thereby have equivalent rights over ancestral and coparcenary property.

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What does the term live-in relationship refer to

Live-in relations refer to the kind of arrangement where two individuals live together like a married couple but with no performance of either a marriage ceremony or with the registration of marriage. In the case of Indra Sharma vs. VKV Sarma, (2013) the Hon’ble Supreme Court has distinguished both terms as “relationship of marriage continues, notwithstanding the fact that there are differences of opinions, marital unrest etc., even if they are not sharing a shared household, being based on law. However, a live-in relationship is purely an arrangement between the parties, unlike a legal marriage. Once a party to a live-in- relationship determines that he/she does not wish to live in such a relationship, that relationship comes to an end.” This concept is basically a Western concept, however, with the passage of time and increased social acceptance of individual’s personal choices and relationships this concept is now being accepted in a large part of society.

From ancient times, India has been known for its culture, values, and morals, and thereby till the 21st century this set-up of living together without marriage was considered to be a big taboo, however, with the fast-growing economy, globalisation and increasing awareness among people, India has now started to accept western cultures including that of live-in relationships.

Marriages in India are sacramental and are considered to be one of the important rituals for socialisation, unlike in Western countries where civil agreements are formed. The concept of live-in relation is new to India but in the current scenario is widely accepted in youth and in urban areas. In terms of legal protection, there is no such legislation being formed till date, however, the Indian judiciary due to its wide interpretation of laws has delivered various judgements and has given legal recognition and has further provided protection to the partners living in such arrangements.

One such case was Badri Prasad vs. Dy Director of Consolidation (1978) the partners lived together for a long period of time i.e. 50 years and represented themselves as husband and wife in the society, here Hon’ble Supreme Court had accepted and acknowledged the fact that a live-in relationship is a valid form of marriage. However, even after acceptance of the concept, there are still certain other aspects that need to be considered in relation to live-in relationships. 

In another case of Payal Sharma vs. Nari Niketan (2001), where the 21 years old girl approached Allahabad High Court seeking protection from court to live life with the choice of her partner without any interference. It was held that man and woman can live together even without getting married as per their wish. It was further observed that even if the act of living together is considered immoral in society, such an act cannot be regarded as illegal under the presumption of law as everyone has the right to live with the person they wish to spend their time with under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

In the present case study, we will unfold one such aspect of live-in relationship, where the concern was raised in regard to the rights and recognition of children born out of such arrangements.

Case name

S.P.S. Balasubramanyam vs. Suruttayan Alias Andali Padayachi & ors.

Judgement date

29th November, 1991

Parties involved

Appellant: S.P.S. Balasubramanyam

Respondent: Suruttayan Alias Andali Padayachi & ors.

Bench

K. Jagannatha Shetty Shetty, R.M. Sahai

Equivalent Citations

AIR1992SC756, 1992 SUPP(2)SCC304, AIR 1992 SUPREME COURT 756, 1992 AIR SCW 441, 1993 ( ) BOM CJ 716, (1992) MARRILJ 293, 1992 (2) SCC(SUPP) 304, (1992) 1 PAT LJR 93, (1992) 1 RECCRIR 524, (1992) 2 RRR 381, (1992) 3 SCJ 468

In order to understand the facts of the case, it is important to first understand a short brief of the family background, and how the disputed property became the concern. The dispute arose out of the family dispute wherein Manthi alias Thambiran Padayachi had 3 sons, out of which one was named as Chinnathambi. Mr Chinnathambi was married to Ms Pavayee who was the legally married wife, however, Mr. Chinnathambi was living with another woman whose name was also Ms. Pavayee (herein referred to as Pavayee 2). Mr. Chinnathambi had 2 sons and 1 daughter from Ms. Pavayee 2, out of which one of the sons was named as Ramaswamy.

In the year of 1968, Manthi executed the will of settlement dividing his coparcenary property as well as ancestral property among his children and grandchildren, where Chinnathambi did not receive his share and which ultimately led him to the filing of suit against his brothers with the claim of a share in property as was mentioned under the will and also in favour of other family members. The suit was terminated on March 18, 1952, by the compromise between the parties, where a share in the property was given to Mr. Chinathambi, of which he later executed the settlement deed by which he divided his share of property between his wife and his children out of which Ramaswamy received 1/3rd share in the property, which he later sold to the appellant in 1971.

This selling of property was then resisted by the descendants of the other two branches which ultimately led to the appellant filing a suit under Article 132 of the Indian Constitution for the declaration of property under his name and for the recovery of possession of property.   

  • The major concern raised in front of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, was whether the High Court was justified in presuming the validity of marriage or not?
  • Whether Ramaswamy’s selling of ancestral property which he had received was valid or not?

Judgement by Trial and Appellate Court

The suit was first raised before the Trial court where the major dispute raised was on the fact that, whether the Ramaswamy to be considered as the legitimate child of Mr. Chinathambi and also, whether he has the right title over the property, as the property in talks is ancestral and coparcenary. The Trial Court thereby held that the claim raised by the defendants in regard to Ramaswamy being the illegitimate child of Pavayee 2 and Chinathambi was true to the fact that, Chinathambi was already legally married to another woman and Pavayee 2 was only concubine with whom he was spending time. It was also considered during this judgement that the settlement deed made by Manthi was for the ancestral and coparcenary property which in his will was to be distributed to his children and grandsons which includes Chinathambi but not in favour of Ramaswamy, and hence, the deed of settlement executed by Chinathambi was held to be invalid.

However, this judgement was set aside in the Appellate Court, according to which it was held that even though Chinathambi was married to other women but was living with Pavayee 2 under the same roof for a longer period of time, which arose the presumption of them being husband and wife in the society, and therefore, the child born from such relationship is a legitimate child. Further, it was also stated in the judgement by Appellate Court that the deed executed by Manthi for the distribution of property and the compromise made between the 3 sons for the suit filed by Chinathambi about the partition and parties agreeing to the facts that the compromise so made, can be given effect without distributing the same on the basis of metres and boundaries, as the other parties were already in possession of the same, and therefore, it can be held that Chinathambi has got the exclusive right over the property and hence the deed made in favour of Ramaswamy was valid.

However, this presumption was again rebutted in the Second appeal by the Hon’ble High Court of Madras (relying on Gokal Chand vs. Parvin Kumari (1952)), where it was argued that Pavayee 2 was a married woman, therefore, even if she was living with Chinathambi there is evidence on record which proves that she had a living husband, and thereby it was held that both were committing adultery and living into such adulterous relationship is not recognised by any law, further, it was also stated that, had both Chinathambi and Pavayee 2 were legally married there must have been some mention of Pavayee 2 and her offspring on the executed deed by Manthi. 

Further, it was also found that the compromise made out of the suit filed by Chinathambi was between the family members and Chinathami and no mention was made either to Pavayee or Ramaswamy, further certain other documentary proof was relied which ultimately led to the conclusion that both Pavayee and Chinathambi was not in legal marriage and thereby Ramaswamy, did not hold any active right in the share of the property, he has received under the executed deed by Mr. Chinathambi. However, the decision so made was unsatisfied by the appellant and therefore, the present appeal was filed.

Judgement by the Apex Court

The present suit was then referred to the Hon’ble Supreme Court, where the appeal was allowed and the judgement so provided by the Madras High Court was set aside.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that “the circumstances relied upon by the High Court are reasonable to destroy the presumption, which is otherwise available to recognise Pavayee 2 as the wife of Chinnathambi. It was said that the absence of the names of Pavayee 2 and her son from the documents does not affect the legitimacy of her children with Chinnathambi. The evidence submitted is also unreliable, as witnesses did not deny that Chinnathambi and Pavayee No. 2 lived together. It is undisputed that Chinnathambi fathered children, including Ramaswami. Therefore, the High Court’s evidence does not negate the presumption that Chinnathambi and Pavayee No. 2 lived together as husband and wife.”

This case was further referred to in various other judgments like that of Parameswari alias Gnanasakthi vs. Raja Ratinam (2010) and Chandan Singh vs. Randheer Singh(2007).

S.P.S Balasubramanyam vs. Suruttayan Andalli Padayachi and ors. is considered to be one of the important and famous judgments as it establishes the principle of validating the presumption of marriage if the partners have lived for a longer period of time and have made society and law to presume about them being legally married couple. Further, this case also establishes the legitimacy of the child born out of such a relationship and thereby ensures that every child born out of such arrangements is given the same rights and recognition as that of the child born to the legally married couple. The ruling in this case has had great implications on the rights of the children born out of such arrangements and also the acceptance from society of such relationships.

The highlights from the the judgement of Hon’ble Supreme Court are as follows:

  • Child legitimacy: As per the present judgement so provided, it gives the children born out of such live-in relationships, presumes the right of being recognized to be the legitimate child. As was held in the case of Tulsa & ors. Vs. Durghatiya, (2008), where the issue arose was that of inheritance of rights for the children born out of live-in relationships. The Hon’ble Supreme Court relying on Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, held that such an act of marriage is to be presumed from the common course of natural events, and, hence the child born out of such live-in relationship arrangement is a legitimate child and thereby has the right to inherit property from parents.

In yet another case of D. Velusamy vs. D. Patchaiammal (2011), the case was in regards to the interpretation of the term “relationship in the nature of marriage” under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 in regards to the protection of marriage. It was held that the children born out of such relationships have legitimate status in the society, and hence can inherit property from parents.  

  • Marriage Presumption: The judgement here clearly mentions that if a man and woman live together for a longer period of time even if both are not legally married, it is presumed by law that they are legally married. Further transferring the onus to prove the validity of marriage to the person who wants proof of the same i.e. the other party. 

As was in the case of Badri Prasad vs. Dy Director of Consolidation and ors. (1978), where the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that couples who have been living together like husband and wife for a longer period of time shall be presumed to be legally married couple, however, such presumption can be rebutted, but the burden to prove the same will lie on the respondent or the person who has raised concerns in regards to the legality of marriage.    

The Author is of the opinion that the judgement in the present case is truly remarkable as it recognises the live-in relationship to be valid and also strengthens and protects the rights of the child born from such relation in India. The judgement sets the realistic approach towards the progressive societal changes and recognizes the fact of moving with the fast changing society. Also, this judgement marks the protection of the rights of children born out of such relation which they might lose if such progressive judgements were not passed.  

The present judgement significantly bolstered the rights of the children born out of live-in relationships and provided essential legal recognition to such unions. By presuming legal marriage for long-term cohabiting couples under Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, and affirming the legitimacy of their children, the judgement aligns the law with contemporary social realities. This progressive decision has had far-reaching implications for inheritance and property rights, ensuring that children from live-in relationships receive the legal protections they deserve, marking a pivotal step in the evolution of family law in India.  


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