P&H HC | Extra-marital affair cannot lead to conclusion that woman would not be a good mother; HC grants custody of 4-year-old to the mother

Punjab and Haryana High Court: In a habeas corpus case regarding custody of the child the Bench of Anupinder Singh Grewal, J., refused to consider extra-marital affair as a ground to deny custody of child to the mother. The Bench remarked,

“In a patriarchal society, it is fairly common to cast aspersions on the moral character of a woman. More often than not these allegations are made without any basis or foundation. Even assuming a woman is or has been in an extramarital relationship, the same by itself cannot lead to the conclusion that she would not be a good mother to deny her the custody of her child.”

Background

The petitioner had sought the issuance of a writ in the nature of habeas corpus for the release of her minor daughter who was alleged to be in the custody of her husband-respondent 4. Respondent 4 was an Australian citizen and the petitioner later joined him in Australia. Out of the wedlock, a girl child Jasreen Kaur Garcha was born. Later on, the petitioner and respondent 4 developed matrimonial differences which led to their separation. The parties arrived in India on 24-01-2020. It was by the petitioner that in a deep rooted conspiracy the child was taken away by respondent 4 when the petitioner had gone to her parental village. It was further contended by the petitioner that respondent 4, instead of acceding to the request of the petitioner to handover the child, started threatening her and the petitioner fearing her safety, fled back to Australia on 05-02-2020. She filed a petition for the custody of the minor child in the Federal Circuit Court, Australia and the court had passed an interim order directing respondent 4 to return the minor child to Australia.

On the other hand, respondent No.4 submitted that the petitioner was involved in a relationship with his brother-in-law which had led to marital discord between the parties. The Panchayat was convened on 04-02-2020 and it was agreed that as the petitioner had permanent residency in Australia, the custody of the child would be handed over to respondent 4. He further submitted that after her return to Australia, the petitioner had preferred an application for the custody of the child and in the application, the Australian address of respondent 4 had been mentioned although she knew that he along with their child was in India. Relying on the judgment Ranbir Singh v. Satinder Kaur Mann, 2006(3) RCR (Civil) 628, respondent 4 submitted that a decree, which had been obtained from a foreign court on the basis of a fraud would not be enforceable in India.

 Observations and Decision

Noticing that the mother is the natural guardian of the child till the age of five years in terms of Section 6 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, the Bench stated that the child would require love, care and affection of the mother for her development in the formative years. Similarly, the support and guidance of the mother would also be imperative during adolescence. Furthermore, the petitioner had permanent residency in Australia. She was earning Rs 70,000/- Australian dollars per annum and a handsome sum would be payable to her for the maintenance of child as well by the Australian authorities. The father was an Australian citizen. He had also obtained a diploma in Hospitality Management and was employed in Australia and only recently had come to India. He had a small piece of agricultural land and was stated to have some rental income as well.

The Bench opined that the principle of comity of courts had been followed by the Courts in India to honour and to show due respect to the judgments obtained by the Courts abroad. However, the judgment of a foreign court could not be the only factor while considering the issue of custody of a child to a parent. Reliance was placed by the Court on the decision of Supreme Court in Yashita Sahu v. State of Rajasthan, wherein the Bench had held,

In the fast shrinking world where adults marry and shift from one jurisdiction to another there are increasing issues of jurisdiction as to which countrys courts will have jurisdiction. In many cases the jurisdiction may vest in two countries…Though the interest of the child is extremely important and is, in fact, of paramount importance, the courts of one jurisdiction should respect the orders of a court of competent jurisdiction even if it is beyond its territories. When a child is removed by one parent from one country to another, especially in violation of the orders passed by a court, the country to which the child is removed must consider the question of custody and decide whether the court should conduct an elaborate enquiry on the question of childs custody or deal with the matter summarily, ordering the parent to return the custody of the child to the jurisdiction from which the child was removed, and all aspects relating to the childs welfare be investigated in a court in his/her own country.

Noticeably, the respondent 4 had leveled allegations pertaining to the character of the petitioner that she was in an extra-marital relationship with a relative of the petitioner. Opining that aside of the bald assertion in the petition, no supporting material had been brought before the Court, the Bench remarked that in a patriarchal society, it is fairly common to cast aspersions on the moral character of a woman. Therefore, allegations against the petitioner being wholly unsubstantiated were not considered relevant to adjudicate the issue of custody of the minor child.

Noticing that the respondent 4 had appeared initially in the proceedings in Australia, the Bench opined, it could not be said that the order was passed by the Australian Court behind the back of respondent 4 or was not in conformity with the principles of natural justice. Accordingly, the custody of the girl child was handed over to the petitioner. However, the petitioner was directed to arrange interaction of the child with respondent 4 through video conferencing and the parties were directed to abide by the orders of the Federal/Family Court in Australia.[Mandeep Kaur v. State of Punjab, 2021 SCC OnLine P&H 1060, decided on 10-05-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.


Appearance before the Court by:

For the Petitioner: Adv. Divjyot Singh Sandhu
For the State of Punjab: DAG Dhruv Dayal
For Respondent 4: Adv. Inderpal S. Parmar

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