Punjab & Haryana High Court: Cohabitation Entitles Maintenance Rights Regardless of Marriage Proof

Punjab & Haryana HC clarifies: Cohabitation like marriage warrants maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C, even sans proof of ceremonies. Religious differences not grounds for dismissal.

The Punjab & Haryana High Court recently clarified that partners in a prolonged cohabitation, akin to husband and wife, are entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C), even without proof of essential marriage ceremonies.

Rejecting a challenge to a maintenance order, the court emphasized the legislative intent behind Section 125 Cr.P.C. Justice Harpreet Singh Brar highlighted, "The provisions aim to provide speedy assistance and social justice to women, children, and infirm parents." He noted that requiring strict proof of marriage would contradict this intent.

In a revision plea, a man contested a Family Court's order awarding Rs. 6,000 maintenance to his partner. The woman had filed under Section 125 Cr.P.C. following a matrimonial dispute, despite no proof of essential ceremonies. The man argued that only a legally wedded wife could invoke Section 125 Cr.P.C., citing religious differences.

The court addressed whether strict proof of marriage was necessary under Section 125 Cr.P.C. It clarified that while marriage is essential for offenses like bigamy, under Section 125 Cr.P.C., the standard of proof is based on probabilities, not beyond reasonable doubt.

Regarding religious differences, the court noted that while Hindu Marriage Act prohibits marriage between individuals of different religions, the Special Marriage Act permits it. Hence, the woman's claim for maintenance wasn't invalidated by the place of marriage.

Justice Brar concluded that prolonged cohabitation warrants relief under Section 125 Cr.P.C., even without proof of essential ceremonies. The Family Court's order, which considered the material to determine maintenance, was deemed fair given the respondent's reasonable needs amidst rising costs.

In light of these findings, the plea was dismissed, affirming the entitlement of partners in prolonged cohabitation to maintenance under Section 125 Cr.P.C.