Tag Archives: Custody of Child

Jurisdiction of State – Which has most intimate contact with the issues arising in the case

 The Hon’ble Apex Court in Surinder Kaur Sandhu v. Harbax Singh Sandhu, (1984) 3 SCC 698 was concerned with the custody of a child who was British citizen by birth whose parents had been settled in England after their marriage. The child was removed by the husband from the house and was brought to India. The wife obtained a judicial order from the UK court whereby the husband was directed to hand over the custody of the child to her. The said order was later confirmed by the court of England and thereafter the wife came to India and filed a writ petition in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana praying for custody and production of the child which came to be dismissed against which the wife appealed to the Apex Court. The Apex Court keeping in view the “welfare of the child”, “comity of courts” and “jurisdiction of the State which has most intimate contact with the issues arising in the case” held thus:

“We may add that the spouses had set up their matrimonial home in England where the wife was working as a clerk and the husband as a bus driver. The boy is a British citizen, having been born in England, and he holds a British passport. It cannot be controverted that, in these circumstances, the English Court had jurisdiction to decide the question of his custody. The modern theory of Conflict of Laws recognises and, in any event, prefers the jurisdiction of the State which has the most intimate contact with the issues arising in the case. Jurisdiction is not attracted by the operation or creation of fortuitous circumstances such as the circumstance as to where the child, whose custody is in issue, is brought or for the time being lodged. To allow the assumption of jurisdiction by another State in such circumstances will only result in encouraging forum-shopping. Ordinarily, jurisdiction must follow upon functional lines. That is to say, for example, that in matters relating to matrimony and custody, the law of that place must govern which has the closest concern with the well-being of the spouses and the welfare of the offspring of marriage. The spouses in this case had made England their home where this boy was born to them. The father cannot deprive the English Court of its jurisdiction to decide upon his custody by removing him to India, not in the normal movement of the matrimonial home but, by an act which was gravely detrimental to the peace of that home. The fact that the matrimonial home of the spouses was in England, establishes sufficient contacts or ties with that State in order to make it reasonable and just for the courts of that State to assume jurisdiction to enforce obligations which were incurred therein by the spouses. (See International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington  90 L Ed 95 : 326 US 310 (1945) , which was not a matrimonial case but which is regarded as the fountainhead of the subsequent developments of jurisdictional issues.) It is our duty and function to protect the wife against the burden of litigating in an inconvenient forum which she and her husband had left voluntarily in order to make their living in England, where they gave birth to this unfortunate boy.”  In  Elizabeth Dinshaw v. Arvand M. Dinshaw, (1987) 1 SCC 42, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it is the duty of courts in all countries to see that a parent doing wrong by removing children out of the country does not gain any advantage by his or her wrongdoing and was guided by the factors such as the longer time spent by the child in the US in which the child was born and became US citizen and also the fact that the child has not taken roots in India and was still not accustomed and acclimatised to the conditions and environment obtaining in the place of his origin in the United States of America. The Court took note of the fact that the child’s presence in India is the result of an illegal act of abduction and the father who is guilty of the said act cannot claim any advantage by stating that he has already put the child in some school in Pune.  Lahari Sakhamuri v. Sobhan Kodali, (2019) 7 SCC 311.

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Custody of Child –Dispute in a Foreign Country

The state of law as approved in Nithya Anand Raghavan v. State¸(2017) 8 SCC 454 is that if a child is brought from a foreign country, being its native country to India, the Court in India may conduct (a) summary enquiry, or (b) an elaborate enquiry on the question of custody, if called for. In the case of a summary enquiry, the court may deem fit to order the return of the child to the country from where he/she has been removed unless such return is shown to be harmful to the child. Aximoatically thus, even in case of a summary enquiry, it is open to the court to decline the relief of return of the child to the country from where he/she has been removed irrespective of a pre-existing order of return of a child by a foreign court, in case it transpires that its repatriation would be harmful to it. On the other hand, in case of an elaborate enquiry, the court is obligated to examine the merits as to where the paramount interest and welfare of the child lay and take note of the pre-existing order of the foreign court for the return of the child as only one of the circumstances. As a corollary, in both the eventualities whether the enquiry is summary or elaborate, the court would be guided by the pre-dominant consideration of welfare of the child assuredly on an overall consideration on all attendant facts and circumstances.

In Surya Vadanan v. State of T.N., (2015) 5 SCC 450, two minor girls aged 10 years and 6 years respectively were British citizens by birth. Following intense matrimonial discords, the mother had left UK and had come to India with her two daughters. She also instituted a proceeding in the family court at Coimbatore seeking dissolution of marriage. It was held as under:

“However, if there is a pre-existing order of a foreign court of competent jurisdiction and the domestic court decides to conduct an elaborate enquiry, it must have special reasons to do so. An elaborate enquiry (as against a summary enquiry), it must have special reasons to do so. An elaborate enquiry should not be ordered as a matter of course. While deciding whether a summary or an elaborate enquiry should be conducted, the domestic court must take into consideration:

  • The nature and effect of the interim or interlocutory order passed by the foreign court.
  • The existence of special reasons for repatriating or not repatriating the child to the jurisdiction of the foreign court.
  • The repatriation of the child does not cause any moral or physical or social or cultural or psychological harm to the child, nor should it cause any legal harm to the parent with whom the child is in India. There are instances where the order of the foreign court may result in the arrest of the parent on his or her return to the foreign country. In such cases, the domestic court is also obliged to ensure the physical safety of the parent.
  • The alacrity with which the parent moves the foreign court concerned or the domestic court concerned, is also relevant. If the time gap is unusually large and is not reasonably explainable and the child has developed firm roots in India, the domestic court may be well advised to conduct an elaborate enquiry.”

Vis-à-vis the renditions in V. Ravi Chandran v. Union of India, (2010) 1 SCC 174, Shilpa Aggarwal v. Aviral Mittal, (2010) 1 SCC 591 and Arathi Bandi v. Bandi Jagadrakshaka Rao, (2013) 15 SCC 790, the Hon’ble Apex Court in Nithya Anand Raghavan v. State, (2017) 8 SCC 454, distinguished the facts involved therein from the one under its scrutiny. While underlining that the considerations which impelled the court to adopt its summary approach/jurisdiction in directing the return of the child to its native country, did not in any way discount or undermine the predominant criterion of welfare and interest of the child even to outweigh neuter or offset the principle of comity of courts, if disapproved the primacy sought to be accorded to the order of the foreign court on this issue of custody of minor in Surya Vadanan v. State of T.N., (2015) 5 SCC 450 though negated earlier in Dhanwanti Joshi v. Madhav Unde, (1998) 1 SCC 112 and reiterated that whether it was a case of summary enquiry or an elaborate enquiry, the paramount consideration was the interest and welfare of the child so much so that the pre-existing order of a foreign court could be taken note of only as one of the factors. The alacrity or the expedition with which the applicant/parent moves the foreign court or the domestic court concerned, for custody as a relevant factor was also not accepted to be of any definitive bearing. This notion of “first strike principle” was not subscribed to and further the extrapolation of that principle to the courts in India as predicated in Surya Vadanan v. State of T.N., (2015) 5 SCC 450 was also held to be in-apposite by adverting inter alia to Section 14 of the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 and Section 10 of Civil Procedure Code.

In Nithya Anand Raghavan v. State, (2017) 8 SCC 454, while maintaining the custody of the child in favour of the mother in preference to the applicant father had required the mother to participate in the proceeding before the foreign court initiated by the respondent father therein. It was observed that the custody would remain with the respondent mother till it attained majority, leaving it at liberty then to choose its parent to reside with. Prateek Gupta v. Shilpi Gupta, (2018) 2 SCC 309.

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