The Supreme Court of India has ruled that couples in long cohabitation could be legally wedded in the eyes of the law.
Long cohabitation and acceptance of society of a man and woman as husband and wife goes a long way in establishing
a valid marriage, a Bench of Justices S B Sinha and Cyriac Joseph observed, while while dismissing an appeal of a woman from Karnataka against the state High Court ruling over an insurance claim.
The woman's son Subramanya had nominated her as nominee in his insurance policies. After his death, Challamma, the mother, sought the entire survival benefit accruing from the insurance policies to herself.
She maintained that the other claimant, Tilaga, was not married to his son as there was no valid proof of the same. But the trial court awarded Challama only one-fourth of the amount and the remaining went to Tilaga, whose marriage with Subramanya was accepted by the judge on the basis of the material evidence produced before it.
Challama moved the High Court, which too dismissed her plea. She then approached the apex court.
The Supreme Court Bench said when disputes of valid marriages comes into question, courts could rely not only on the various material placed before it, but also draw a presumption on the basis of the conduct between the two parties. "In arriving at a finding of fact, indisputably the learned trial judge was not only entitled to analyse the evidences brought on record by the parties so as to come to a conclusion as to whether all the ingredients of a valid marriage as contained in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 stand established or not.
"A presumption of a valid marriage having regard to the fact that they had been residing together for a long time and has been accepted in society as husband and wife, could also be drawn," the apex court said.
Thilaga wife had proved with material facts that she had married Subramanya and lived with him for over three years. Whereas, Challama could not adduce sufficient evidence to prove her claim, it noted. "A heavy burden, thus, lies on the person who seeks to prove that no marriage has taken place," the Bench said.