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Rights Of Parents Irrelevant When Court Decides Custody Of Their Child: Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
13 Jan 2022 3:55 AM GMT
Rights Of Parents Irrelevant When Court Decides Custody Of Their Child: Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court has observed that the rights of the parents are irrelevant when a Court decides the issue of custody of their minor child.The issue of custody of a minor, whether in a petition seeking habeas corpus or in a custody petition, has to be decided on the touchstone of the principle that the welfare of a minor is of paramount consideration, the bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and...

The Supreme Court has observed that the rights of the parents are irrelevant when a Court decides the issue of custody of their minor child.

The issue of custody of a minor, whether in a petition seeking habeas corpus or in a custody petition, has to be decided on the touchstone of the principle that the welfare of a minor is of paramount consideration, the bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka observed.

In this case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued several directions while allowing a petition for habeas corpus filed by the husband seeking custody of the minor child. The mother was directed to return to USA along with minor child on or before 30.09.2021. Challenging this order, the mother approached the Apex Court.

On behalf of the mother, it was contended that the welfare principle would mean balancing the interests of all the members of the child's family. It was contended that the mother as the primary caregiver must be kept in mind as a person who has legal rights which must be respected and protected. An article by Mr.John Ekelaar which some criticism of "the welfare principle" was relied upon.

Addressing this contention, the bench referred to Kanika Goel v. the State of Delhi (2018) 9 SCC 578  and Prateek Gupta v. Shilpi Gupta (2018) 2 SCC 309

"The decision of this Court in the case of Kanika (supra) reiterates the well-settled law that the issue regarding custody of a minor child and the issue of the repatriation of the child to the native country has to be addressed on the sole criteria of the welfare of the minor and not on consideration of the legal rights of the parents. The principle that the welfare of the minor shall be the predominant consideration and that the rights of the parties to a custody dispute are irrelevant has been consistently followed by this Court. "

The court noted that, in sub-section (1) of Section 13 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (for short "the 1956 Act"), it is provided that in appointment or declaration of a guardian of a minor, the welfare of the minor shall be the paramount consideration. The court made the following observations:

The consideration of the well-being and welfare of the child must get precedence over the individual or personal rights of the parents.

26...When a Court decides that it is in the best interest of the minor to remain in the custody of one of the parents, the rights of the other parent are bound to be affected. As provided in clause (a) of Section 6 of the 1956 Act, in the case of a minor boy or girl, the natural guardian is the father, but ordinarily, the custody of a minor who has not completed the age of 5 years shall be with the mother. On a conjoint reading of sub-section (1) of Section 13 read with clause (a) of Section 6 of the 1959 Act, if it is found that the welfare of a minor whose age is more than 5 years requires that his custody should be with the mother, the Court is bound to do so. In the same way, if interest of the minor which is the paramount consideration requires that the custody of a minor child should not be with the mother, the Court will be justified in disturbing the custody of 24 the mother even if the age of the minor is less than five years. In such cases, the rights of the father or the mother, as the case may be, conferred by clause (a) of Section 6 are bound to be affected. Whenever the Court disturbs the custody of one parent, unless there are compelling reasons, the Court will normally provide for visitation rights to the other parent. The reason is that the child needs the company of both parents.

The orders for visitation rights are essentially passed for the welfare of minors and for the protection of their right of having the company of both parents. Such orders are not passed only for protecting the rights of the parents. In view of the settled legal position, the welfare of the minor being the paramount consideration, we cannot act upon the suggestions of Mr.John Ekelaar in his Article.

We cannot accept the submission that while applying the welfare principle, the rights of the mother or father need to be protected. The consideration of the well-being and welfare of the child must get precedence over the individual or personal rights of the parents.

Rights of the parties litigating over the custody issue are irrelevant

27. Each case has to be decided on its own facts and circumstances. Though no hard and fast rule can be laid down, in the cases of Kanika  (supra) and Nithya (supra), this Court has laid down the parameters for exercise of the power to issue a writ of habeas corpus under Article 226 of the Constitution of India dealing with cases of minors brought to India from the country of their native. This Court has reiterated that the paramount consideration is the welfare of the minor child and the rights of the parties litigating over the custody issue are irrelevant. After laying down the principles, in the case of Nithya (supra), this Court has clarified that the decision of the Court in each case must depend on the totality of facts and circumstances of the case brought before it. The factual aspects are required to be tested on the touchstone of the principle of welfare of the minor child. In the cases of Lahiri (supra) and Yashita (supra), the Benches of this Court consisting of two Judges have not made a departure from the law laid down in the decisions of larger Benches of this Court in the cases of Nithya (supra) and Kanika (supra). The Benches have applied the law laid down by the larger Bench to the facts of the cases before them. It is not necessary for us to discuss in detail the facts of the aforesaid cases. By its very nature, in a custody case, the facts cannot be similar. What is in the welfare of the child depends on several factors. A custody dispute involves human issues which are always complex and complicated. There can never be a straight jacket formula to decide the issue of custody  of a minor child as what is in the paramount interest of a minor is always a question of fact. But the parameters for exercise of jurisdiction as laid down in the cases of Nithya (supra) and Kanika (supra) will have to be followed.

The bench also considered the issue as to whether the Court can compel one of the parents to move from one country to another? In this regard, the bench observed thus:

The Courts, in such proceedings, cannot decide where the parents should reside as it will affect the right to privacy of the parents. We may note here that a writ Court while dealing with the issue of habeas corpus cannot direct a parent to leave India and to go abroad with the child. If such orders are passed against the wishes of a parent, it will offend her/his right to privacy. A parent has to be given an option to go abroad with the child. It ultimately depends on the parent concerned to decide and opt for giving a company to the minor child for the sake of the welfare of the child. It will all depend on the priorities of the concerned parent.

The court therefore modified the directions issued by the High Court:

(i) It will be open for the appellant no.1 to travel to USA along with the minor child and to contest the proceedings pending in USA. If the appellant no.1 is willing to travel to USA along with the minor child, she will communicate her willingness to do so to the respondent no.1 by email within a period of fifteen days from today. The appellant no.1 shall communicate to the respondent no.1 the possible dates on which she proposes to travel along with the minor child. The possible dates shall be within three months from today;
(ii) On receiving an intimation as aforesaid, the respondent no.1 shall book air tickets after consulting the appellant no.1. The respondent no.1 shall make proper arrangements for separate stay of the appellant no.1 in USA after consulting her. The arrangements for residence shall be made at the cost of 36 the respondent no.1. As and when the appellant no.1 wants to return to India, it shall be the responsibility of the respondent no.1 to pay for her air tickets. If she wishes to continue in USA, the respondent no.1 shall take all possible steps for the extension of visa or for getting a new visa;
(iii) In the event the appellant no.1 agrees to travel to USA along with the minor son, it will be the responsibility of the respondent no.1 to pay a sufficient amount per month to the appellant no.1 for maintenance of herself and the minor son. Along with the air tickets, the respondent no.1 shall remit US$ 6,500 to the appellant no.1 by a mutually convenient mode. The amount shall be utilised by the appellant no.1 to meet initial expenditure in USA. After the expiry of period of one month from the date on which the appellant no.1 arrives in USA, the respondent no.1 shall regularly remit a mutually agreed amount to the appellant no.1 for maintenance. If there be any dispute, the parties are free to adopt remedy in accordance with law. The respondent no.1 shall provide proper medical insurance to the appellant no.1 and the minor child while they are in USA. Moreover, the respondent no.1 shall be under an obligation to provide proper medical treatment to the minor child;
(iv) In the event, the appellant no.1 along with the minor child visits USA in terms of this order, for a period of three months from the date of her arrival, the respondent no.1 shall not take any steps to implement or enforce the order dated 3rd February 2020 passed by the Circuit Court of Benton County, Arkansas which will enable the appellant no.1 to move the concerned Court for contesting the petition filed by the respondent no.1 and to file appropriate proceedings. A written undertaking to that effect shall be filed by the respondent no.1 in this Court within two weeks from today. Thus, for the said period of three months, the custody of the minor shall remain with the appellant no.1; (v) After the appellant no.1 and minor child reach USA, subject to the orders which may be passed by the competent Court in USA, for a period of 3 months from their arrival, the respondent no.1 shall be entitled to have temporary custody of the minor child from 10 am to 5 pm on every Sunday or as 38 mutually agreed upon by the appellant no.1 and the respondent no.1. In addition, the respondent no.1 shall be entitled to make a video call to talk to the minor child for about half an hour on every day (except Sunday) between 5 pm to 6 pm;
(vi) In the event, the appellant no.1 is not willing to visit USA along with her minor son and fails to communicate her willingness to visit USA within a period of fifteen days from today, it will be open for the respondent no.1 to take custody of the child. After the respondent no.1 visits India, the appellant no.1 shall hand over the custody of the minor child to him and the respondent no.1 shall be entitled to take the minor child with him to USA. In such an event, the appellant no.1 will be entitled to talk to the minor child on video call for half an hour on every day between 5 pm to 6 pm (USA time) or at such time as mutually agreed upon by the appellant no.1 and the respondent no.1;
(vii) As observed by the High Court in paragraph 58 of the impugned Judgment, an option of adopting agreed joint parenting plan remains open to the parties. If they wish to do  so, they can always file appropriate application before the High Court; and
(viii) This order shall not be construed to mean that any final adjudication has been made on the rights of the parties. /div>

Case name: Vasudha Sethi vs Kiran V. Bhaskar

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 48

Case no. and Date: CrA 82 OF 2022 | 12 Jan 2022

Coram: Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka

Counsel: Advocate Binu Tamta For Petitioner and Advocate Shadan Farasat For Respondent (Father)

 Click here to Read/Download Judgment





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