Merely because a woman is not legally entitled to be in the wedlock with a man who is already married does not mean she cannot avail of benefits of the domestic violence law, the Bombay high court has ruled.

Justice Bharati Dangre recently upheld orders of subordinate courts restraining the stepsons of a woman from evicting her from the house she lived in after the death of their police officer father.

The woman, whose first husband was murdered during a dacoity, fell in love with the police officer who was investigating the case. She said the man had claimed he was single and they lived together from 1995 till his death due to cancer in 2007.

“The relationship of the woman with the deceased satisfies the test of ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ and is characterized by the sharing of finances, sharing of a household and rearing of a child who is born out of the wedlock,” said Justice Dangre. “In such circumstances, merely because the woman is not legally entitled to be married to the deceased because of subsistence of his first marriage, cannot be said to be a ground to deprive her of the benefits flowing from the Domestic Violence (DV) Act. Rather, this is the very purpose of the enactment, which intends to cover such relationships which do not necessarily arise out of a marriage, but are in the nature of marriage,” said the judge.

The woman said she had married the police officer, who was investigating the murder of her first husband, in 1995.

She lived with him, along with the couple’s son and her daughter from the first marriage. They held joint bank accounts, invested in a bungalow in Alibaug where they lived, and her son’s certificate mentions him as his father.

When the man died in 2007, the man’s two sons from his first marriage threatened her and told her to vacate the bungalow. She filed a case under the DV Act and the court issued restraining orders against the two brothers and directed them to shell out Rs 2,000 as compensation to the woman.

The siblings approached the high court claiming that since their father was already married and their mother was alive, his second marriage was void. The benefits of DV law, therefore, could not be availed of by the woman, they told the court.

The court noted that the man himself had nominated his second wife to receive his pension benefits which meant that he held her out to the world as his wife.

“In such circumstances, if the relationship of the woman with the deceased is of such a nature that they shared a common household, shared an economic relationship, which is very apparent in that the house is purchased from investment made by her, the sharing of the finances between them is very apparent,” said the court.

The high court said that there was no illegality in the order protecting the woman.