The Supreme Court in the matter titled as Vivek Singh Vs. Romani Singh, Civil Appeal no. 3962/2016 decided on 13th February, 2017 was determining the issue of custody of a minor child. The Court reiterated the old principle that welfare of the minor child is the first and paramount consideration and in order to determine child custody, the jurisdiction exercised by the Court rests on its own inherent equality powers where the Court acts as ‘Parens Patriae’.
The word “welfare” used in Section 13 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act has to be construed literally and must be taken in its widest sense. The moral and ethical welfare of the child must also weigh with the court as well as its physical well-being. Though the provisions of the special statutes which govern the rights of the parents or guardians may be taken into consideration, there is nothing which can stand in the way of the court exercising its parens patriae jurisdiction arising in such cases.
The Court observed that the aforesaid principle is aimed at serving twin objectives. In the first instance, it is to ensure that the child grows and develops in the best environment. The best interest of the child has been placed at the vanguard of family/custody disputes according the optimal growth and development of the child primacy over other considerations. The child is often left to grapple with the breakdown of an adult institution. While the parents aim to ensure that the child is least affected by the outcome, the inevitability of the uncertainty that follows regarding the child’s growth lingers on till the new routine sinks in. The effect of separation of spouses, on children, psychologically, emotionally and even to some extent physically, spans from negligible to serious, which could be insignificant to noticeably critical. It could also have effects that are more immediate and transitory to long lasting thereby having a significantly negative repercussion in the advancement of the child. While these effects don’t apply to every child of a separated or divorced couple, nor has any child experienced all these effects, the deleterious risks of maladjustment remains the objective of the parents to evade and the court’s intent to circumvent. This right of the child is also based on individual dignity.