Illegal Abduction of Minor by a Parent from another from one Country to another, Courts should see that the Parent does not gain any Advantage by his Wrong Doings

Illegal Abduction of Minor by a Parent from another from one Country to another, Courts should see that the Parent does not gain any Advantage by his Wrong Doings
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
Before :- V. Balakrishna Eradi and G.L. Oza, JJ.
Writ Petn. (Crl.) No. 270 of 1986. D/d. 11.11.1986.

Mrs . Elizabeth Dinshaw - Petitioner
Versus
Arvand M. Dinshaw and another - Respondents

Constitution of India, Article 226 - Guardians and Wards Act, 1890, Section 7 - Habeas corpus - Minor child - Custody of minor - Interest and welfare of minor is predominant criterion - Illegal abduction of minor by a parent from another from country to another - In all countries the courts should see that the parent does not gain any advantage by his wrong doings. [Para 8]

Case referred :
In Re H. (infants), (1966)1 All ER 886.

JUDGMENT

V. Balakrishna Eradi, J. - Immediately on conclusion of the hearing of arguments in the above Writ Petition on June 11, 1986, having regard to the urgency of the matter, we passed the following order :-
    "We allow the Writ Petition and direct that the minor boy, Dustan be restored forthwith to the custody of the petitioner i.e. the mother with liberty to the petitioner to take him to the United States. The child will be a ward of the concerned Court in Michigan and it will be open to the father, first respondent herein to move that Court for a review of the custody of the child, if he is so advised. Detailed reasons will follow. The passport of the child which is in deposit with the Registrar of this Court will be returned to the petitioner i.e. the mother of the child today itself. The concerned authorities of the Government of India will afford all facilities to the mother to take the child back to the United States pursuant to the order passed by this Court."
We now proceed to state in this judgment our reasons in support of the order.
2. The petitioner, Mrs. Elizabeth Dinshaw is a citizen of the United States of America residing in the State of Michigan. She is employed as a caseworker for the State of Michigan in Genesee County Department of Social Services, Flint Michigan. The first respondent, Mr. Arvand M. Dinshaw, who is an Indian citizen was a student at Northern Michigan University in 1971. During that period the petitioner was also studying there. What started as a friendship between them on the campus later developed into love and the petitioner was married to the first respondent in a civil marriage before a legal magistrate in Negaunee, Michigan on February 26, 1972. The first respondent thereafter settled down in the United States more or less on a permanent basis having secured employment as an Accountant for the Controller's Office in Genesee County and having obtained a permanent immigration Visa. A male child, Dustan, was born to the couple on August 30, 1978 in Rochester, Michigan, United States of America where they were having their marital home.
3. Unfortunately differences arose between the two spouses late in the year 1980 and on December 23, 1980, the petitioner along with her son took up separate residence in a women's shelter in Saginaw, Michigan. She filed a petition for divorce on January 2, 1981 in the Circuit Court for the County of Saginaw, Michigan. By a decree dated April 23, 1982, the Circuit Court held that it had been established that there had been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony had been destroyed and there remained no reasonable likelihood that the marriage could be preserved and hence it declared the marriage as dissolved and granted a divorce to the petitioner as prayed for. By the same decree, it was directed that the petitioner shall have the care, custody and control of the minor child of the parties until he reaches the age of 18 years or until the further orders of that Court. The first respondent, the father was given visitation rights by the decree and it was provided that he shall have visitation with the minor child from approximately 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the Wednesday of every week during which he does not have a weekend visitation. It was further ordered that the father shall have visitation with the minor child on alternate weekends from 6 p.m. on Friday until the following Monday morning when he should return the child to his day care centre. On the subject of travel with the minor child to any place outside the United States, it was specifically directed in the decree as follows :-
    "It is further ordered and adjudged that should the Defendant Arvand M. Dinshaw, wish to travel with the minor child outside the territorial limits of the Untied States, he shall bring a petition before this Court, setting forth the conditions under which he intends to leave the country with the minor child. The court shall then make a determination as to whether such travel is in the best interests of the minor child, and what conditions shall be set forth to ensure the child's return."
4. Taking advantage of the weekend visitation rights granted to him by the above decree, the first respondent picked up Dustan from his school on January 10, 1986 and secretly left the United States of America for India on January 11, 1986, at about 8-30 in the night. He had not intimated the Court about his intention to take the child out of its jurisdiction and outside country nor had he given the slightest indication to the petitioner about his intention to leave the United States of America permanently for India. It may be stated that immediately before leaving for India, the first respondent had sold away the immovable property consisting of a house and its premises owned by him in Seymour, Lindan, Michigan, where he had been residing and it was only from the Airport that he posted a letter tendering his resignation from his job as Accountant in the County. In this context it is significant to recall that the decree of the Circuit Court contained the following directions :-
    "It is further ordered and adjudged that the Defendant shall notify the Office of the Friend of the Court promptly concerning any changes in his address. The Court further finds that the Defendant is presently residing at 14155 Seymour, Lindan, Michigan."
5. It was only late in the day on Monday, January 13, 1986 that the petitioner came to know that the minor child, Dustan had not been returned to the day care centre by the first respondent. She immediately moved the Michigan Circuit Court complaining against the violation by the first respondent of the terms of its decree. A warrant of arrest was issued by the Michigan Circuit Court against the first respondent on January 16, 1986 on the ground of unlawful taking and retaining the child outside the State. This was later followed by the issue of a Federal Warrant of arrest against the first respondent on the January 28, 1986 on the ground of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Since the first respondent had already come over to India with the minor child, these warrants could not be executed in the United States. The first respondent has his ancestral home in Pune where his parents are residing. The petitioner made frantic efforts through American Consulate General at Bombay to trace out the whereabouts of Dustan. She received a reply that the Consular Officer, American Consulate General, Bombay travelled to Pune on Friday, March 7, 1986 and though she was able to visit the residence of the first respondent's parents and she spoke with them, the minor child, Dustan was not present there and the grand-parents reported that Dustan and his father had gone North, possibly to Kashmir and that they were not aware of the exact whereabouts of Dustan and the first respondent. The petitioner finding herself totally helpless to recover back the custody of her minor child, whom she had brought up for more than 7 years, thereafter arranged to have this petition filed in this Court seeking the issuance of writ of Habeas Corpus directing the respondents to produce in Court her minor child, Dustan and to hand over his custody to her as the person entitled to his custody under the order of a competent foreign Court.
6. In response to the notice issued by this Court directing production of the child before the Court, the first respondent appeared and produced the child in Court. He has filed a counter-affidavit but significantly there is absolutely no satisfactory explanation given there for his conduct in abducting the child from America without seeking permission of the Court in that country of which the minor child was ward. His only explanation is that his father was seriously ill and he wanted that his father in his ailing condition to see Dustan. He has further stated that his son Dustan has told him on an enquiry that he would prefer to stay with him in Pune and hence he had got Dustan admitted in St. Helana's School in Standard III. According to him he had not deliberately done anything wrong in bringing Dustan with him from the United States and that now the minor child is well settled here in India and it will be in the interest of the child that he should be allowed to reside with him in India as per the child's desire.
7. The conduct of the first respondent in taking the child from the custody of the person to whom it had been entrusted by the Court was undoubtedly most apprehensible. The explanation sought to be given by him namely, his father's illness, is far from convincing and does not in any way justify such gross violation and contempt of the order of the Circuit Court in Michigan.
8. Whenever a question arises before Court pertaining to the custody of a minor child, the matter is to be decided not on considerations of the legal rights of parties but on the sole and predominant criterion of what would best serve the interest and welfare of the minor. We have twice interviewed Dustan in our Chambers and talked with him. We found him to be too tender in age and totally immature to be able to form any independent opinion of his own as to which parent he should stay with. The child is an American citizen. Excepting for the last few months that have elapsed since his being brought to India by the process of illegal abduction by the father, he has spent the rest of his life in the United States of America and he was doing well in school there. In our considered opinion it will be in the best interests and welfare of Dustan that he should go back to the United States of America and continue his education there under the custody and guardianship of the mother to whom such custody and guardianship have been entrusted by a competent Court in that country. We are also satisfied that the petitioner who is the mother is full of genuine love and affection for the child and she can be safely trusted to look after him, educate him and attend in every possible way to his proper up bringing. The child has not taken root in this country and he is still accustomed and acclimatized to the conditions and environments obtaining in the place of his origin in the United States of America. 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 to some school in Pune. The conduct of the father has not been such as to inspire confidence in us that he is a fit and suitable person to be entrusted with the custody and guardianship of the child for the present.
9. In Re H. (infants), (1966) 1 All ER 886 the Court of Appeal in England had occasion to consider a somewhat similar question. That case concerned the abduction to England of two minor boys who were American citizens. The father was a natural-born American citizen and the mother, though of Scottish origin, had been resident for 20 years in the United States of America. They are divorced in 1953 by a decree in Mexico, which embodied provisions entrusting the custody of the two boys to the mother with liberal access to the father. By an amendment made in that order in December, 1964, a provision was incorporated that the boys should reside at all times in the State of New York and should at all times be under the control and jurisdiction of the State of New York. In March, 1965, the mother removed the boys to England, without having obtained the approval of the New York Court, and without having consulted the father; she purchased a house in England with the intention of remaining there permanently and of cutting off all contacts with the father. She ignored an order made in June, 1965, by the Supreme Court of New York State to return the boys there. On a motion on notice given by the father in the Chancery Division of the Court in England, the trial Judge Cross, J. directed that since the children were American children and the American Court was the proper Court to decide the issue of custody, and as it was the duty of courts in all countries to see that a parent doing wrong by removing children out of their country did not gain any advantage by his or her wrongdoing, the Court without going into the merits of the question as to where and with whom the children should live, would order that the children should go back to America. In the appeal filed against the said judgment in the Court of Appeal, Willmer L.J. while dismissing the appeal extracted with approval the following passage from the judgment of Cross, J. :-
    "The sudden and unauthorised removal of children from one country to another is far too frequent nowadays, and as it seems to me, it is the duty of all courts in all countries to do all they can to ensure that the wrongdoer does not gain an advantage by his wrongdoing.
    ..... .....
    The Courts in all countries ought, as I see it, to be careful not to do anything to encourage this tendency. This substitution of self-help for due process of law in this field can only harm the interests of wards generally, and a judge should, as I see it, pay regard to the orders of the proper foreign Court unless he is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that to do so would inflict serious harm on the child."
10. With respect we are in complete agreement with the aforesaid enunciation of the principles of law to be applied by the Courts in situations such as this.
11. As already observed by us, quite independently of this consideration we have come to the firm conclusion that it will be in the best interests of the minor child that he should go back with his mother to the United States of America and continue there as a ward of the concerned Court having jurisdiction in the State of Michigan. The petitioner has tendered before this Court in an affidavit filed by him an unconditional apology for having illegally brought Dustan over to India from the United States in violation of the order of the competent Court in that country. The proper step to be taken by him is to tender such an apology to the Court whose order he has violated. It was brought to our notice that by an order passed by the Circuit Court, Saginaw, Michigan on February 11, 1986, the first respondent has been found to be in contempt of that Court for violation of its order and the Court has consequently terminated the visitation rights which had been conferred on the first respondent by the decree dated April 23, 1982. It will be open to the first respondent, if he is so advised, to move the Saginaw County Circuit Court in the State of Michigan for modification of this order on tendering his unconditional apology to that Court, and if he is able to satisfy that Court that there is genuine contrition and regret on his part for the wrong that he has done, we have no doubt that the Circuit Court will take a lenient view and pass appropriate orders working out justice between the parties keeping in mind the important aspect that it will not be in the interest of the minor child to completely alienate him from his father for whom the child has developed genuine affection. We have also no doubt that the petitioner will not take a vindictive attitude but would forget and forgive what has happened in the past and co-operate with the father in the matter of enabling him to have restricted visitation rights in America with all necessary, proper and adequate safeguards and that the petitioner would also extend her co-operation for the withdrawal of the warrants of arrest outstanding against the first respondent in case he approaches her with such a request.
12. For the reasons stated above, the Writ Petition is disposed of with the directions issued by our order dated June 11, 1986.

Petition allowed.
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