Indian State Redefines Marriage (And Expands Divorce)

Happy Friday! Today our Pittsburgh family lawyers bring you an update in unusual international family law news.

An Indian High Court in the southern state of Madras has issued a ruling with surprising, but far reaching effects. The Court has decided that sexual intercourse between two consenting adults constitutes legal marriage.

Arising out of a case for child support, the unmarried mother appealed a decision by a lower court denying support for the two children resulting from the relationship because the mother and father were not married. Instead of resolving only the basic question of support, the Court declared that marriage certificates and ceremonies are only for the ceremonialization of marriage. What is more important is evidence of a sexual relationship, which shows that two people have chosen “a total commitment with adherence to all consequences which follow.”

The upshot is that any man 21 and over and any woman 18 and over who engage in sexual intercourse are legally married under the law of the State of Madras. If either party wants to formalize the marriage, all that they need to do is to present evidence of their sexual relationship (i.e. children). The Court stated that “[l]egal rights applicable to normal wedded couples will also be applicable to couples with [established] sexual relationships.” Therefore, if you have sex, you could potentially be responsible for alimony payments, in addition to child support for any resulting children.

While this may have some benefit for single mothers who have been abandoned, and it formalizes the rights of live-in couples, this pronouncement carries with it one major burden. Because people are considered to be legally married by having sex, they have to get officially divorced to have sex with anyone else. This new ruling could prove to be highly restrictive on the behavior of young, unwed people, as well as potentially troublesome in cases of sexual assault. (It should be noted that there is an exception to this ruling for “exceptional circumstances.”)

In Pennsylvania (and in the rest of the United States) it takes a lot more than a sexual relationship to make a marriage. Even in states with common law marriage, there must be an active decision to hold a couple out as married, and it requires emotional and financial linkage in addition to physical. In Pennsylvania, a marriage license is required. Additionally, the argument about not being married to escape from support would not fly, because child support is required for all identified children, regardless of the parents’ marital status.

Contact our experienced family law attorneys today to discuss your case!

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