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SC to mother: Go back to US

Sakhamuri, her estranged cardiologist husband Sobhan Kodali, who is also from India and their children are all US citizens
The Supreme Court

Our Legal Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 19.03.19, 09:18 PM

The Supreme Court has directed a US-based Indian-born woman to return to Pennsylvania where she has filed a suit for divorce against her estranged husband and custody of their children, saying there was every possibility they might “reconcile” for the sake of the kids.

The bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi dwelt at length on how children were the “ultimate” sufferers in such disputes as it directed Lahari Sakhamuri, a biomedical engineer, to go back and “participate” in the proceedings before the US court.

Sakhamuri, her estranged cardiologist husband Sobhan Kodali, who is also from India; and their children are all US citizens.

“In our view, the best interest of the children being of paramount importance will be served if they return to the US and enjoy their natural environment with love, care and attention of their parents, including grandparents, and resume their school and be with their teachers and peers,” Justice Rastogi, who authored the March 15 judgment, said.

“There is every possibility that the parties may reconcile and start over their relationship afresh, at least for the sake of happiness of their own off­spring if for no other reason.”

Destiny, the judge added, entrusts children to joint parental care and spouses must overcome the “temperamental disharmony which usually exists in every marriage, rather than magnifying it with impulsive desires and passions”.

Sakhamuri and Kodali, both green card holders, had got married in March 2008 in Hyderabad according to Hindu rites. The biomedical engineer filed the suit in January 2017. The suit was pending before the US court when Sakhamuri came down to Hyderabad with her two children for a 20-day visit following a bereavement in the family.

While in Hyderabad she filed a suit before a civil court for permanent custody of the children and an injunction order against her husband from taking them away.

The husband then filed a petition before Hyderabad High Court seeking custody of the children and challenging the civil court’s interference on the ground that the custody battle was pending in the US court.

The high court agreed with the husband’s contention and directed Sakhamuri to return to the US to pursue their legal battle, prompting her to move the Supreme Court.

The top court dismissed her plea. “The appellant (Sakhamuri) cannot disregard the proceedings instituted at her instance before the US court and she must participate in those proceedings by engaging solicitors of her choice to espouse her cause,” the bench said.

“Taking a holistic consideration of the entire case, we are satisfied that all the criteria such as comity of courts, orders of foreign court having jurisdiction over the matter regarding custody of the children, citizenship of the spouse and the children, intimate connect, and above all, welfare and best interest of the minor children weigh in favour of the respondent (Kodali) and that has been looked into by the high court… in detail,” the court added.

Justice Rastogi said it would be in the best interest of the minor children if they returned to their natural environment and the care and attention of their father and paternal grandparents.

“Divorce and custody battles can become a quagmire and it is heart wrenching to see that the innocent child is the ultimate sufferer who gets caught up in the legal and psychological battle between the parents. The eventful agreement about custody may often be a reflection of the parents’ interests, rather than the child’s,” Justice Rastogi said.

“We accordingly direct the appellant (Sakhamuri) to return to the US along with both the children… within a period of six weeks from today (March 15).”

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