Bombay High Court: While deciding the instant custody matter, S.C. Gupte, J., held that as per the provisions of Section 6 of Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, it is a mother who is the natural guardian of an illegitimate child (whether boy or girl) and a father’s claim only comes in second to mother’s.
As per the facts of the instant case, the dispute revolved around the custody of a minor son of the petitioner and the respondent, born out of wedlock. The petitioner (biological father) via his counsel Aditya Pratap, challenged the Order passed by the Family Court, Pune which had awarded the custody to the respondent (biological mother). The petitioner contended that the respondent has cut-off his access to the child and that she is mentally and emotionally unfit to take custody of the child. The petitioner further submitted that the respondent intends to take away the boy to New Zealand; hence she has applied for visa. The respondent via her counsel Abhishek Pungliya, contended that the petitioner had abandoned her during her pregnancy; refused to acknowledge their marriage which allegedly took place in 2009. The respondent also claimed that the petitioner inflicted physical and mental torture upon her so that the child may get miscarried. The respondent further submitted that since his birth and till date, it is the respondent alone who has brought up the child. It was pointed out that the child suffers from autism spectrum disorder; hence he has always been under exclusive care of the respondent whereas the petitioner never had any affection or association with the child. Regarding the respondent’s relocation to New Zealand, it was submitted that both the mother and the child are the citizens of New Zealand and since the country is free from the current Covid-19 pandemic, hence it is a safe haven for her son.
Perusing the contentions of the parties and the Order given by the Family Court, the Court observed that the petitioner could not sufficiently establish the mental instability of the respondent, as the materials presented by him does not establish the respondent’s unsoundness of mind, prima facie. Deliberating upon the validity of the Order passed by the Family Court, the Bench noted that the Family Court had correctly taken into account all the relevant circumstances and materials on record; its view is certainly a possible view, which a Court of law might well take.
The impugned Order has fairly and adequately addressed prima facie merits of the case as also the question of balance of convenience. Regarding the petitioner’s claims, the Court noted that he denied any matrimonial relationship between himself and the respondent, and thereby, legitimacy to the minor child. The child, who is a special child, has been taken care of and looked after by the respondent mother ever since his birth. It is therefore the mother who has an indefeasible legal right to his natural guardianship over the petitioner. [Dharmesh Vasantrai Shah v. Renuka Prakash Tiwari, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 697 , decided on 09-06-2020]