Topic: Smt. Naseema Shaikh vs Shri Jainuddin M. Shaikh - interim custody of child

Smt. Naseema Shaikh vs Shri Jainuddin M. Shaikh
Equivalent citations: 1998 (4) BomCR 225 - Bench: R Khandeparkar

ORDER
R.M.S. Khandeparkar, J.

Interim custody of child

1. Admit. Heard forthwith by consent.
2. This is a revision application against the Order dated 14th May, 1998 passed in Special Civil Suit No. 55/96/B by the Additional Civil Judge, Senior Division at Vasco-da-Gama. By the impugned order, the trial Court had directed that during the first half of the summer vacation with effect from 15th May, 1998 to 25th May, 1998 the interim custody of the minor child of the parties by name Saniya, be given to the respondent herein.
3. The facts in brief relevant for the decision are that the petitioner and the respondent were married on 10th May 1985 and out ot the said wedlock the said child by name Saniya was born on 14th December 1987. The petitioner and the respondent lived together till November 1993 and since December 1993 the petitioner herein started residing at her parental house alongwith her daughter Saniya. Sometime in July 1996 the respondent herein filed Special Civil Suit No. 55/96/B in the trial Court praying for custody of the minor child Saniya. Pending the hearing and disposal of the suit, the respondent herein also prayed for interim custody of the child. It was the case of the respondent that the petitioner had been leading an adulterous and characterless life and the same may affect their daughter Saniya if she is allowed to continue to reside with the petitioner. It was the further case of the respondent that the child was being brought up by the petitioner in an unhealthy atmosphere and further that the child was being deprived of motherly love and affection and, therefore, the respondent wanted to bring up the child in a healthier manner and for that reason the interim custody of the child was required to be given to him.
4. The claim of the respondent was disputed by the petitioner and it was contended by her that the respondent was an alcoholic person and used to ill-treat her and that therefore she had to leave her matrimonial house. She further denied that the child was being brought up in an unhealthy atmosphere and that no motherly love and affection was given to the child.
5. The trial Court after hearing the parties by its order dated 15th February 1997 dismissed the interim application for custody filed by the respondent. The trial Court however, observed that the respondent being the father of the minor child was equally entitled to spend time with his minor daughter and to bestow his love and affection on her and, therefore, it was just and proper to allow the respondent to meet the child Saniya in the school premises during the recess time of 1st and 4th Saturdays of every month.
6. It appears that prior to the Diwali vacation of the year 1997 an attempt was made by the respondent to file an application for interim custody of the minor child during the period of half of the Diwali Vacation. However, the same application was rendered infructuous being not disposed of in time. Thereafter, on 21st March 1998 the respondent herein filed another application seeking the relief of interim custody of the minor child Saniya for half of the period of summer vacation in the year 1998. The trial Court after hearing the parties by the impugned order allowed the said application directing interim custody of the minor child Saniya to be given to the respondent during the period from 15th May 1998 to 25th May 1998. It is this order that is being impugned in the present revision application.
7. Shri S.S. Kantak, learned Advocate appearing for the petitioner, while assailing the impugned order, submitted that the trial Court ought to have considered that the application under consideration was barred by the principles of res judicata in as much as the trial Court had, by its Order dated 15th February, 1997, already rejected the relief of interim custody ot the minor child to the respondent and, therefore, the trial Court should not have entertained a fresh application for similar type of relief. In that regard he placed reliance upon the judgment of the Apex Court in the matter of Arjun Singh v. Mohindra Kumar and others, . He
further submitted that the respondent did not disclose any change in the circumstances to warrant any alteration or modification in the Order dated 15th February 1997 as regards the interim custody of the minor child Saniya. He further submitted that the fact that there is de facto separation between the petitioner and the respondent since December 1993 is not in dispute. Nevertheless there was no attempt by the respondent to seek the custody of the minor child for a period of 3 years and the application for custody was filed only in July 1996. An attempt in the said suit to obtain interim custody on the part of the respondent had failed when the Order dated 15th February 1997 was passed and yet the respondent did not react against the same by filing any appeal. In these circumstances, according to the learned Advocate, there was no justification for any modification in the said Order on the basis of the application filed by the respondent on 21st March 1998. According to the learned advocate, the facts on record do not in any manner justify the custody of the minor child with the respondent even for a period of 10 years.
8. As against this Shri S.M. Makandar, the learned Advocate appearing for the respondent, submitted that the earlier application which was disposed of by Order dated 15th February 1997 was on the basis of certain facts disclosed in the application which was the subject matter of the Order whereas the impugned Order is based on different set of facts disclosed in the application dated 21st March 1998 and in that view the principle of res judicata will have no application to the matter in hand. According to the learned advocate, the fact regarding the summer vacation was not at all an issue between the parties while the matter was being dealt with by the trial Court and disposed of by Order dated 15th February 1997 whereas that was the sole issue for consideration while disposing the application under consideration by the impugned Order. He further submitted that this Court in the matter of Agnelo Rasquinha v. Maria Cynthia Luiza de Piedae Colaco Rasquinha, reported in 1989 (1) G.L.T. 28 has already held that though the courts are at liberty to interview children, the Court is not bound to follow the wishes of the children if it is found that the children are immature and incapable of forming their opinion. Placing reliance upon the said judgment of this Court, the learned Advocate submitted that undisputedly the child Saniya is hardly 10 years old and cannot be considered to be capable to form her own opinion regarding her own welfare and well being. He further submitted that the father is always the natural guardian of minor children. Being so, and placing reliance upon the judgment of the Delhi High Court in the matter of Dr. Mrs. Manglesh Aneja v. State and another, reported in 1988(24) Reports Del. 345 submitted that the welfare of the minor child should be of paramount consideration for the Court while deciding the issue of custody of the minor child and for that purpose all the relevant facts having bearing on the health, maintenance and education of the minor should be taken into consideration by the Court. Taking this into consideration, according to the learned Advocate, no fault can be found with the impugned order and it cannot be said that any illegality has been committed by the trial Court in ordering the interim custody of the minor child Saniya for 10 days to the respondent. He further submitted that it is in the interest of the child that the child should also be bestowed with fatherly love alongwith motherly love and in that view of the matter no interference is called for by this Court in its revisional jurisdiction.
9. Upon hearing the advocates for the parties and on perusal of the records, it is seen that the trial Court by the impugned order has allowed the application of the respondent for interim custody for 10 days during the summer vacation merely on the ground that the question of summer vacation raised in the application under consideration was not before the trial Court while deciding the matter on 15th February 1997 and secondly on the ground that the predecessor Judge of the trial Court had found that the father of the minor child Saniya, being a natural guardian, could not be deprived to spend some time with his own daughter and to bestow his love and affection on her. The relevant portion of the Order reads thus :-
"Perusal of the application in the said Civil Miscellaneous Application No. 128/ 96 and the affidavit filed in support of it shows that the question of summer vacation was not raised in the said application nor the same was considered in the said order. The petitioner being the father of the minor-child-Saniya is a natural guardian of the said child, he cannot be deprived to spend some time with his own daughter and to bestow his love and affection on her. The application of the petitioner, therefore, deserves to be allowed to the following effects."
Before arriving at the said finding the trial Court has also quoted a paragraph from the order dated 15th February 1997 in order to justify the said findings. Moreover, it appears that the trial Court completely overlooked that the paragraph quoted from the order dated 15th February 1997 was preceded by two other relevant paragraphs which read thus :-
" 10. It is also pertinent to note that the respondent is living with her parents, sisters and brothers. Thus, it is evident that even in the absence of the respondent there are elderly family members in the house who can look after the child. The applicant is admittedly working and there is nothing on record to prove that he has any family member specially grown up female family member who is genuinely interested in the welfare of the child and who can guide and give motherly advice to the child Saniya.
11. In my opinion, the differences, discord and bitterness between the parents should not affect the healthy normal growth of the child the least that the child deserves and expects from their parents."
It is only after arriving at these findings that the trial Court in its Order dated 15th February 1997 had observed that considering all these facts and without going into the merits of the allegations made by either parties, there were no compelling circum stances warranting interference of the Court to grant interim custody to the respondent. Nevertheless the trial Court had also observed that the respondent being father of the minor child was equally entitled to spend time with his minor child and to bestow his love and affection on his daughter. In other words, the observation of the trial Court in its order dated 15th February 1997 regarding the necessity or entitlement of the father to spend some time with his minor daughter was in the facts and circumstances disclosed in paragraph 10 and 11 of the said order which clearly disclose that the materials on record do not suggest in any manner that there were any compelling circumstances warranting interference of the Court to grant interim custody to the respondent. At this stage it is pertinent to note that absolutely nothing has been brought on record by the respondent to show that there has been any change in the said situation after passing the Order dated 15-2-97. In other words, the facts that the respondent is not having any elderly person to look after the child in his absence when he goes to attend his job and that no compelling circumstances warranting interim custody of the child Saniya for 10 days with the respondent has been disclosed by the respondent at this stage are not in dispute and therefore there is no change in the said situation which was prevailing as on 15-2-97. The impugned order did not refer to any such material having been brought on record and rightly so, because there is no such materials placed on record.
10. The observation of the trial Court that "question of summer vacation was not raised in the said application nor the same was considered in the said order" clearly shows non-application of mind of the trial Court to the matter in issue. Summer vacation is not a new thing which occurred only in March, 1998. Every educational year is followed by summer vacation. In that view of the matter it cannot be said that the respondent was unaware of the fact that his minor daughter Saniya would be enjoying summer vacation in the year 1998 after answering her examination of Standard VI having started in the said Standard in the academic year 1997-1998. The respondent cannot be said to have been unaware of this fact at the time the matter was heard and decided by Order dated 15-2-97. Though the principle of res judicata may not be strictly applicable here, nevertheless the principle incorporated in Explanation IV of section 11 cannot be completely overlooked. Considering this fact the observation of the trial Court that the question of summer vacation was not raised in the earlier application and was not considered by the trial Court while passing the order dated 15th February 1997 not only discloses non-application of the mind to the matter in issue and the law applicable thereto but clearly discloses improper exercise of its jurisdiction while disposing of the application.
11. Moreover the matter pertains to the custody of the minor child and cannot be disposed of merely because there was a jurisdictional error on the part of the trial Court and the matter requires to be considered on the merits of the case. The trial Court while disposing the earlier application for interim custody has clearly observed as already held above that there is no elderly female member available in the family of the respondent to look after the minor child in the absence of the respondent when he goes to attend his job. The trial Court also observed that for the healthy growth of the minor child the differences between the parents should not be taken into consideration and no fault can be found with such observation of the trial Court. As already observed above the respondent has not brought on record any material to show or to justify any change in the circumstance at the residence of the respondent or that any member of the family is available to look after the child in his absence at his residence since 15-2-97 or any time thereafter. The trial Court in its Order dated 15th February 1997 after taking into consideration all the pros and cons had decided to reject the interim custody of the child to the respondent. There was no reaction by the respondent against the said order. In these circumstances it cannot be said even on merits that there is any case made out by the respondent for any modification or change in the Order dated 15th February 1997 and to permit the custody of the minor child even for 10 days to the respondent.
12. The decision of the Delhi High Court relied upon by the learned Advocate for the respondent lays down broad principles of law to be followed while deciding the matter relating to the custody of the minor child. Moreover, the judgment is clearly distinguishable on facts. In the said case the Delhi High Court has clearly observed that the father is a natural guardian of the children and the burden of proving that he is incapable of looking after the welfare of the children was on the petitioner mother particularly when the children are not in a position to make an intelligent preference. Undisputedly in the instant case the trial Court in its Order dated 15th February 1997 has dearly held that in the facts and circumstances the respondent will not be in a position to look after the minor child Saniya and, therefore, the interim custody of minor child Saniya to the respondent was rejected. That observation remains undisturbed. The respondent never even thought of challenging that decision of the trial Court in its Order dated 15-2-97. In this background the judgment of the Delhi High Court has no application to the case in hand.
13. As regards the decision of our High Court in the matter of Agnelo Rasquinha (supra), there is absolutely no difficulty in placing reliance upon the same, not to justify the impugned order but to justify the interference therein by the High Court. This Court has held in the said decision of Agnelo Rasquinha (supra) that though the Court is at liberty to interview children, the Court is not bound to follow the wishes of the children, if it is found that the children are immature and incapable of forming their opinion. This proposition only speaks about the discretion of the Court to be exercised in the matter of custody of the minor child. In fact, I have personally interviewed the minor child in the presence of both the parents after hearing the arguments by the Counsel for both the parties. After thorough interview with her, I found that she fares comfortably well in her studies and has secured second rank. Besides, she has sufficient interest in extracurricular activities and games. She has already completed 10 years of age. Though she is immature and incapable to form her own opinion, from whatever that was disclosed by her in the course of the interview, I do not see any justification for confirming the order of interim custody of 10 days in favour of the respondent or for any such interim custody of the minor child Saniya with the respondent pending the final disposal of the suit. Moreover, my decision is not based on merely what has transpired from the interview but is based on entire materials on record. Certainly what has been disclosed by the child in the course of the interview cannot be discarded as totally irrelevant.
14. The decision of the Apex Court relied upon by the learned advocate for the petitioner in the matter of Arjun Singh (supra) is of relevancy to the matter in issue. In the said case the Apex Court has held that the scope of principle of res judicata is not confined to what is contained in section 11 but is of more general application. Again the principle of res judicata could be as very much applicable to different stages of the same suit. It has further held that where the principle of res judicata is invoked in the case of the different stages of proceedings in the same suit, the nature of the proceedings, the scope of the enquiry which the adjectival law provides for the decision being reached, as well as the specific provisions made on matters touching such decision are some of the material and relevant factors to be considered before the principle is held applicable. In the instant case the issue before the trial Court while deciding the matter on 15th February 1997 was pertaining to interim custody of the minor child Saniya. The issue before the trial Court while deciding the application under consideration by the impugned order was not different from the interim custody of the minor child. Only difference was that while deciding the matter on 15th February 1997 the Court was concerned about the interim custody of the minor child during the entire pendency of the suit whereas while deciding the application by the impugned order, the Court was concerned with half the period of the summer vacation of 1998. Once the trial Court had considered all the pros and cons and had arrived at the finding that it was not in the interest of the child to grant the interim custody to the respondent during the pendency of the suit, question of granting interim custody during the summer vacation of 1998 could not have been reconsidered by the trial Court unless the respondent had reacted in a lawful manner against the finding arrived at by the trial Court in its Order dated 15-2-97 or the respondent had been able to bring on record the change in the circumstances from those were prevailing on 15-2-97, warranting disturbance in the custody of the minor child Saniya.
15. In this view of the matter, the trial Court has clearly acted in improper exercise of its jurisdiction in granting interim custody of the minor child to the respondent for a period of 10 days from 15th May, 1998 to 25th May, 1998 and, therefore, the same cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside.

16. In the result, therefore, the revision application succeeds and the impugned order is set aside. However, there shall be no order as to costs.

17. Application succeed.