Child custody petitions cannot be kept pending for years together, says HC

Child custody petitions should not be kept pending by the courts for years together not only because the children might end up suffering in the custody of a wrong person during that period but also because they might attain majority due to such delay and thereby frustrate the object behind invoking the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, the Madras High Court said.

Justices SM Subramaniam and J. Sathya Narayana Prasad made the observations while allowing an appeal preferred by a woman police constable seeking custody of her two daughters now aged 16 and 10. The Division Bench found that though the woman had preferred a child custody petition in 2016 , a single judge of the court had dismissed it only on April 8 this year.

The Bench also disapproved of the practice of deciding such petitions solely on the basis of the pleadings made by the estranged couple and without even inquiring the minor children. In the present case, it found that the constable had married a junior assistant in the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board in 2002. The couple had two children, one in 2006 and another in 2010.

Thereafter, they divorced by mutual consent. Though in the child custody petition, an interim order was passed permitting the constable to visit her children during weekends, she claimed that the order was not complied with by her former husband. Nevertheless, when the custody petition was taken up for the final hearing, the single judge dismissed it.

Challenging the order, the appellant accused her former husband of having subjected her to ill treatment by using his political connections despite her serving in the police department. She claimed to have been forcibly detained in a rehabilitation center for the mentally challenged for two days.

She also told the bench her former husband was not taking good care of her children, and they resided in his sister’s house. When the judges summoned the children, their father produced them before the court with great reluctance and the moment, the children climbed up the steps to reach the dais, they broke down before the two judges.

The children expressed their disinclination to live with their father since they were physically abused by him and wanted to live with their mother, and the judges let them go with her. Holding that the appellant, being a working woman, was capable of taking care of her children, the judges denied even visitation rights to the father.

They also granted liberty to the appellant to approach the jurisdictional police if her former husband violates the court order.

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