SL SC | Interest of child stands paramount while deciding questions of his custody

Supreme Court of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: The Three-Judge Bench of Sisira J de Abrew, Vijith Malalgoda PC and P. Padman Surasena, JJ. dismissed an appeal filed against the Judgment of Civil Appellate High Court granting custody of a minor child to her natural parents.

Respondents herein (natural parents of a minor girl Ahingsa Sathsarani Epa) had filed an action in the District Court against appellants praying for a declaration that they are entitled to the legal and physical custody of their daughter. Their plea was dismissed by the learned District Judge, aggrieved whereby they appealed to the Civil Appellate High Court which set aside the impugned order and granted custody of the child to respondents. Hence, the present appeal.

The primary question before the Court was as to whether the welfare of the child would be affected if her custody was given to the respondents, who were her natural parents. It was noted that the child was handed over to appellants by her natural mother, when she was 5 months old as she had a strained relationship with her husband. However, when the appellants sought to adopt the minor when she was around 1 year old, the same was objected to by respondents.

The Court noted that Probation Officer, after conducting a field investigation, had suggested that though the child was not used to the atmosphere of natural parents, they had the capacity and willingness to look after the child. Reliance was placed upon the judgment in Precla W Fernnado v. Dudley W Fernnado, 70 NLR 534 where it was held that “in all questions of custody of children the interests of the children stand paramount. Questions of matrimonial guilt or innocence of a parent would not, therefore, be the sole determining factors in questions of custody”.

It was held that mere delivery of a child by its natural parent to a third party does not invest the transaction with legal consequences; if the parent has right to hand over custody of a child then that parent would also have the undoubted right to resume custody to himself.

In view of the above, the impugned order was affirmed.[Janaka Pushpakumara Kalansooriya v. Jagath Priyantha Epa, 2019 SCC OnLine SL SC 3, decided on 03-04- 2019]

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