NEW DELHI: A Parsi man and woman married as per Zarostrian religious rights in 2001 at Ahmedabad and lived in USA with their two daughters till the wife filed for divorce before the Superior Court at Vermont in 2017 and since then the bitter matrimonial litigation and fight for daughters' custody have spilled over to Surat court, Gujarat HC, Bombay HC and now to SC.
As a counterblast, the husband first unsuccessfully challenged the proceedings before Vermont court saying their marriage was governed by parsi marriage law under which courts in India alone had jurisdiction. He then instituted a divorce proceeding against the wife under Parsi personal law before a Surat court, which in 2018 restrained the wife from proceeding with her divorce plea in Vermont court. The wife challenged the order of the Surat Court, which rejected her plea and asked her to place a copy of its order before the Vermont court.
She challenged the order before the Gujarat HC, which dismissed her plea. She then moved the SC saying some sort of settlement is in progress. Her writ petition is still pending in SC, which said that pendency of proceedings would not come in the way of any settlement between parties. In November 2018, the Vermont Court passed a consent order granting shared parental rights over the two daughters.
The father was permitted by the US court to travel from Boston to Mumbai with the daughters after he gave a specific return date in August 2019. The father and daughters did not return to Boston. The father filed a plea for modification of the custody before the Vermont Court with handwritten letters from the daughters desiring to settle in India. But, the US court rejected the plea. The US court initiated contempt proceedings against the father, asked him to return the daughters to the wife.
Meanwhile, the SC appointed Justice S J Vazifdar as the mediator, but he too failed. After that, the SC in October last year directed that the proceedings before the Surat Court and the Bombay HC, where she had initiated proceedings for getting custody of her children, would continue. The Bombay HC in its order on March 24 said,"The daughters also hinted at the nature of relationship that they had with their mother and how they are apprehensive about living in her company. This is in tune with what they stated in letters addressed to the Court at Vermont, USA, as also in affidavits filed before the SC".
Rejecting the mother's plea for custody, the Bombay HC said, "We are of the opinion that even though the Petitioner is the mother of the children in the present case, that alone cannot be a factor for passing an order in her favour. The daughters have been in India now for the better part of three years and one of the daughters would soon be attaining the age of majority. Taking an overall view of the facts of the present case, we are of the opinion that it would be in the best interest of the daughters that the mother's request is not granted."
Challenging the HC order before the SC, senior advocate Sidharth Luthra attempted to show that the husband had jumped the Vermont court order granting shared parental rights and bringing the daughters to India in breach of the undertaking given before the US court.
Though a bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant issued notices to the husband and the Maharashtra government on the wife's petition for custody of the daughters, it told Luthra, "What can we do. Both children don't want to live with their mother. Both the daughters are mature enough to understand what is right for them. We cannot force them to live with their mother. "