Many forms of man-woman relationships are recognised today. In the Facebook world, it’s simply called ‘complicated’. Since many legal rights and mutual obligations flow out of these relationships, one important issue when a dispute arises is proving the existence of the relationship.

Renuka and Ravi were dating each other for over six months. When Ravi proposed that they start living together, Renuka was a little apprehensive. Ravi tried convincing her, saying even ‘live-in’ relationships have legal recognition. However, Renuka insisted and they went through a small ceremony at the local temple presided over by a priest and, in the presence of a few friends, exchanged garlands and Ravi tied a mangalsutra. Despite Renuka’s repeated requests, Ravi did not register the marriage. Soon, Renuka began to suspect that he had another woman in his life. Sure enough, she found out that he was already married, and his marriage with Reshma was registered. Since it’s a public document, Renuka could obtain certified copies of the marriage certificate.

Renuka took Ravi to court but found to her dismay that she could produce no real proof of her own marriage to Ravi — no invites, no photographs, the priest had vanished, and the friends were all Ravi’s. She could not prosecute Ravi for bigamy. Worse, she found that her relationship with Ravi could have a legal ‘live-in’ status with obligations only if the man and woman are capable of potentially marrying each other.

The main purpose of compulsory registration is to facilitate a valid proof of marriage. It was observed in many cases pending before various courts in India that there were disputes regarding the date of marriage or, sometimes, even the existence of the marriage. The Supreme Court felt the need to make registrations compulsory and directed all state governments to make laws to the effect. A marriage that is registered is presumed to be valid. The presumption is rebuttable in situations like the one discussed in my previous column.

Compulsory registration aims to ensure that a public record of all marriages is maintained. This makes it easy to verify whether your future spouse or live-in partner is already married. It is also a means to reduce the instances of child marriage, as registration requires proof of age to be produced before the registrar. Since lying or falsifying documents before the registrar is a punishable offence, the law seeks to deter such practices. Further, many foreign countries require a valid certificate of registration of marriage to process visa applications, work permits, etc.

It is important to clarify, though, that merely because a marriage is not registered does not make it invalid. Registration is merely a valid legal proof. If there are sufficient other ways to prove the marriage, such as photographs and witnesses, the mere lack of a registration document will not make the marriage invalid. However, under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, registration itself amounts to solemnisation, and non-registration affects the validity of the marriage, especially between members of two different communities. There is no penalty for non-registration of marriages that took place prior to these enactments.

(Poongkhulali B., a graduate from National Law School, Bengaluru, is a practising advocate in Chennai with a keen interest in legal literacy and in making legal processes less intimidating to the common man. And woman. This column is legal information, not advice. Please consult a lawyer for specific cases. Mail the author at poongkhulali.b@gmail.com)