The Full Bench of Apex Court held as follows, with regards to Custody of minor children under GW Act 1890,
Rosy Jacob Vs Jacob A. Chakramakkal on 05 Apr 1973
15. In our opinion. Section 25 of the Guardians and Wards Act contemplates not only actual physical custody but also constructive custody of the guardian which term includes all categories of guardians. The object and purpose of this provision being ex facie to ensure the welfare of the minor ward, which necessarily involves due protection of the right of his guardian to properly look after the ward’s health, maintenance and education, this section demands reasonably liberal interpretation so as to effectuate that object. Hyper-technicalities should not be allowed to deprive the guardian the necessary assistance from the Court in effectively discharging his duties and obligations towards his ward so as to promote the latter’s welfare. If the Court under the Divorce Act cannot make any order with respect to the custody of Ajit alias Andrew and Maya alias Mary and it is not open to the Court under the Guardians and Wards Act to appoint or declare guardian of the person of his children under Section 19 during his lifetime, if the Court does not consider him unfit, then, the only provision to which the father can have resort for his children’s custody is Section 25. Without, therefore, laying down exhaustively the circumstances in which Section 25 can be invoked, in our opinion, on the facts and circumstances of this case the husband’s application under Section 25 was competent with respect to the two elder children. The Court was entitled to consider all the disputed questions of fact or law properly raised before it relating to these two children. With respect to Mahesh alias Thomas, however, the Court under the Divorce Act is at present empowered to make suitable orders relating to his custody, maintenance and education. It is, therefore, somewhat difficult to impute to the legislature an intention to set up another parallel Court to deal with the question of the custody of a minor which is within the power of a competent Court under the Divorce Act. We are unable to accede to the respondent’s suggestion that his application should be considered to have been preferred for appointing or declaring him as a guardian. But whether the respondent’s prayer for custody of the minor children be considered under the Guardians and Wards Act or under the indian divorce act, as observed by Maharajan, J., with which observation we entirely agree, “the controlling consideration governing the custody of the children is the welfare of the children concerned and not the right of their parents”. It was not disputed that under the indian divorce act this is the controlling consideration. The Court’s power under Section 25 of the Guardians and Wards Act is also, in our opinion, to be governed primarily by the consideration of the welfare of the minors concerned. The discretion vested in the Court is, as is the case with all judicial discretions to be exercised judiciously in the background of all the relevant facts and circumstances. Each case has to be decided on its own facts and other cases can hardly serve as binding precedents, the facts of two cases in this respect being seldom — if ever — identical. The contention that if the husband is not unfit to be the guardian of his minor children, then, the question of their welfare does not at all arise is to state the proposition a bit too broadly and may at times be somewhat misleading. It does not take full notice of the real core of the statutory purpose. In our opinion, the dominant consideration in making orders under Section 25 is the welfare of the minor children and in considering this question due regard has of course to be paid to the right of the father to be the guardian and also to all other relevant factors having a bearing on the minor’s welfare. There is a presumption that a minor’s parents would do their very best to promote their children’s welfare and, if necessary, would not grudge any sacrifice of their own personal interest and pleasure. This presumption arises because of the natural, selfless affection normally expected from the parents for their children. From this point of view, in case of conflict or dispute between the mother and the father about the custody of their children, the approach has to be somewhat different from that adopted by the Letters Patent Bench of the High Court in this case. There is no dichotomy between the fitness of the father to be entrusted with the custody of his minor children and considerations of their welfare. The father’s fitness has to be considered, determined and weighed predominantly in terms of the welfare of his minor children in the context of all the relevant circumstances. If the custody of the father cannot promote their welfare equally or better than the custody of the mother, then, he cannot claim indefeasible right to their custody under Section 25 merely because there is no defect in his personal character and he has attachment for his children—which every normal parent has. These are the only two aspects pressed before us, apart from the stress laid by the husband on the allegations of immorality against the wife which, in our firm opinion, he was not at all justified in contending. Such allegations, in view of earlier decisions, had to be completely ignored in considering the question of custody of the children in the present case. The father’s fitness from the point of view just mentioned cannot override considerations of the welfare of the minor children. No doubt, the father has been presumed by the statute generally to be better fitted to look after the children — being normally the earning member and head of the family — but the Court has in each case to see primarily to the welfare of the children in determining the question of their custody, in the background of all the relevant facts having a bearing on their health, maintenance and education. The family is normally the heart of our society and for a balanced and healthy growth of children it is highly desirable that they get their due share of affection and care from both the parents in their normal parental home. Where, however, family dissolution due to some unavoidable circumstances becomes necessary the Court has to come to a judicial decision on the question of the welfare of the children on a full consideration of all the relevant circumstances. Merely because the father loves his children and is not shown to be otherwise undesirable cannot necessarily lead to the conclusion that the welfare of the children would be better promoted by granting their custody to him as against the wife who may also be equally affectionate towards her children and otherwise equally free from blemish, and, who, in addition, because of her profession and financial resources, may be in a position to guarantee better health, education and maintenance for them. The children are not mere chattels : nor are they mere play-things for their parents. Absolute right of parents over the destinies and the lives of their children has, in the modern changed social conditions, yielded to the considerations of their welfare as human beings so that they may grow up in a normal balanced manner to be useful members of the society and the guardian court in case of a dispute between the mother and the father, is expected to strike a just and proper balance between the requirements of welfare of the minor children and the rights of their respective parents over them. The approach of the learned Single Judge, in our view, was correct and we agree with him. The Letters Patent Bench on appeal seems to us to have erred in reversing him on grounds which we are unable to appreciate.
Citations : [1973 AIR SC 2090], [1973 SCC 1 840], [1973 SCR 3 918], [1974 MLJ 2 34], [1973 AIR 2090]
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