Emphasizing the welfare of a child who is a victim in custody battles, the Supreme Court recently, in its order, held that allowing repeated visitation rights to the parent within the Court premises may not be in the best interest of the child as the environment during which the visitation rights are exercised, would also matter having a significant impact on the child's well-being.

The Bench of Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Manoj Misra was dealing with a Special Leave Petition (SLP) challenging an order passed by the Kerala High Court upholding the Family Court's order granting the visitation rights of the child to the petitioner-father herein between 11:00 a.m. to 04:00 p.m. on Sundays in Court premises. The Family Court had also ordered that the exchange of the ward has to be made in the presence of the Court Officer. Impugning the same, the father approached the Apex Court.

The Petitioner-father was represented by Advocate Sriram Parakkat, accompanied by Advocate-on-Record Nishe Rajen Shonker, while the Respondent was represented by Advocate Tanya Aggarwal along with Advocate-on-Record Neelam Singh.

The Bench while observing that the welfare of the child is also to be kept in view by the Court in its order stated, "However, at this stage, we find that the repeated visitation rights in the Court premises, would also not be in the interest of the child as the environment during which the visitation rights are exercised, would also matter. Therefore, at this stage, we see no reason to dispose of the instant petition but we direct that the visitation rights, as granted by the Family Court, shall stand altered for the present whereby the interim custody of the child shall be made over to the petitioner-father by the respondent-mother at the entrance of the RP Mall, Kollam, Kerala at 11:00 a.m on Sundays."

Continuing the Court further stated, "The petitioner-father may take the child to the said mall and exercise the visitation rights till 02:00 p.m. of the same day. The custody of the child shall be made over to the respondent-mother at the same spot (entrance of the mall) where the child was made over to the petitioner-father at 02:00 p.m."

The Petitioner had submitted before the High Court that no overnight custody is given to him which has the effect of denying fatherly care to the child. He had also submitted that unless the child is allowed to be with the petitioner for two consecutive days at least, it would not be possible to develop an emotional bondage between them. It was also alleged that only because of the intervention of the respondent and her relatives, the child shows reluctance to go along with him. In the alternative, the father also sought an order enabling him to have interim custody of the child every Saturday and Sunday.

However, refusing to interfere the High Court stated that although the petitioner has a right to have the custody of the child as that of the respondent, their right has to yield to the welfare of the child. High Court further stated that what is predominant is the best interest of the child, in such circumstances, we are of the view that giving overnight custody of the child to the petitioner before creating a conducive relationship and developing an emotional bondage between them does not cater to the welfare of the child, whereas that may be counter-productive.

The Supreme Court accordingly modified the order to allow the father to meet the child for three hours every Sunday at a mall instead of on the Court's premises or in the presence of Court officers.

Cause Title: Adarsh C.B. v. Aswathy Sidharthan [Special Leave to Appeal (C) No(s). 2437/2023]

Click here to read/download the Order