The Supreme Court has ruled that children born out of a live-in relationship cannot inherit ancestral property, but only the self-acquired property of their parents.
"A child born of void or voidable marriage is not entitled to claim inheritance in ancestral copercenary property but is entitled only to claim share in self-acquired properties, if any," the apex court said in an order.
A bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar passed the order while quashing a Madras High Court judgement which took the view that children born out of live-in relationships were entitled to a share in ancestral property.
In the instant case, a dispute arose whether the two children of Rengammal born on account of a live-in relationship with a bachelor Muthu Reddiar were entitled to a share in the latter's ancestral property after his death.
"In the instant case, respondents (claimants) had not pleaded at any stage that the suit land was a self-acquired property of Muthu Reddiar," the apex court said.
"It is evident from the record that Mutthu Reddiar did not partition his joint family properties and died issueless/intestate in 1974. Therefore, the question of inheritance of coparcenary property by the illegitimate children, who were born out of the live-in relationship, could not arise," it said.
Muthu's relatives had contended that Rengammal was already married to one Alagarswami Reddiar and hence the purported live-in-relationship was void and neither she nor her children can stake claim for a share in the property.
A civil court and the first appellate court both ruled in favour of Muthu's relatives on the ground that Rengammal was already married to Alagarswami and hence her illegitimate children were not entitled to any share in ancestral property.
However, the High Court took the view that mere live-in relationship between two parties would lead to presumption of marriage and decided the case in favour of Rangammal.
Interpreting the Hindu Marriage Act, the apex court said that Section 16 recognised the right of a child to inherit properties of their illegitimate parents, provided it was self-acquired.
"In view of the legal fiction contained in section 16, the illegitimate children for all practical purposes, including succession to the properties of their parents, have to be treated as legitimate.
"They cannot, however, succeed to the properties of any other relation on the basis of this rule, which in its operation is limited to the properties of the parents," the apex court said citing an earlier judgement in the PEK Kalliana Amma (1976) case.