Supreme Court: In a case dealing with the custody of a 7-year-old, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ has said that mere fact that a mother is looking after the child with the assistance of her parents, does not detract from her role and responsibility as a mother.

In the present case, ever since the appellant and the respondent started living apart in 2016, the child has been in the care and custody of the appellant, his mother who was living in Bengaluru. The appellant, upon being temporarily transferred to Singapore by her employer, she sought for the child’s passport which was in possession of the respondent, the father. This is when the respondent filed an application for restraining the appellant from taking the child out of Bengaluru.

The respondent contended that the child is in the custody of the parents of the appellant in Bengaluru and should remain with them. Alternatively, he submitted that he would take charge of the child.

On this the Court noticed that while the parents of the appellant may have volunteered at least temporarily to relocate from NOIDA to Bengaluru to help the appellant in looking after the child, the respondent cannot be heard to assert that the child must continue to remain in Bengaluru with the maternal grand-parents.

“For the respondent to insist that the court should direct the continued presence of the child under the care of the maternal grand-parents who have come to Bengaluru and stay in a rented accommodation obtained by the appellant, does not appear to be fair.”

The Court was of the opinion that the fact that the parents of the appellant have moved to Bengaluru to help their daughter, does not transfer the custody of the child, either as a matter of law or fact, from the appellant to the maternal grand-parents.

It also said that there was no sufficient material to indicate that the respondent was in a position to look after the child on his own, by disturbing a position which has held the field since 2016. When the spouses were together, the child lived and grew up in the care of both the parents. Since 2016, the appellant has taken the responsibility for the welfare of the child.

Further, during the course of the interaction on the video-conferencing platform, the child indicated his desire to reside with his mother in Singapore. The Court, hence, noticed

“While the child is attached to the respondent, he has indicated, in no uncertain terms, his desire to live with his mother. The appellant is gainfully employed in Singapore and her desire that she should be allowed to take the child with her is not an artifice. The appellant, as the mother of the child, has been continuously with the child since his birth, despite the demands of her employment.”

Noticing that the interests of the child are best subserved by ensuring that both the parents have a presence in his upbringing, the Court said that the respondent, as the father, is entitled to have adequate rights of access and visitation as a balance has to be drawn so as to ensure that in a situation where the parents are in a conflict, the child has a sense of security.

[Ritika Sharan v. Sujoy Ghosh,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 878, decided on 28.10.2020]

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