- Timothy J. Conlon is an experienced divorce attorney in Providence, Rhode Island...
The State of Rhode Island Family Court yesterday affirmed the right of Indian national Preeti (Gupta) Bhatnagar, and her infant child to return to India.
Preeti had traveled to the US with the child in an attempt to reconcile her marriage pursuant to an agreement reached through the Courts in India, only to be served with an ex parte restraining order obtained by her husband in the US without notice to her. She was served with the Rhode Island order shortly after her arrival. She retained Timothy J. Conlon, and Laura L. Frechette, who practice family law in Providence. Conlon and Frechette immediately sought dismissal of the husband's custody claim under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act.
Meanwhile, the India courts directed that the Indian embassy in the States provide the woman shelter, and asked the Ministry of External Affairs to come to her aid.
On Tuesday May 18, the parties appeared specially before the Rhode Island Family Court, to press Preeti's claim that she and her child were not properly subject to the Court's jurisdiction.
The Rhode Island Family Court determined that indeed Rhode Island did not have jurisdiction over the child.
"Until yesterday, the Rhode Island Court's were unaware of the details of the proceedings in India. Rhode Island law requires that a plaintiff disclose other actions pending, and the husband listed the India case, but in his sworn statement to the Rhode Island Courts, he passed it off as a 'frivolous legal action' filed by the wife."
In fact, the India Court had cited the Husband for fraud, in that he had induced his wife to return to the US, only to find that when she did get there he had a restraining order prohibiting her from entering what was to have been their home, and telling her she could not leave with the child.
"She was trapped."
The United States Supreme Court had ruled on Monday that an order prohibiting a parent from removing a child from a state had to comply with our Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. In this instance, Rhode Island was not the home state of the child, and father had to concede that he could not use the power of the US Courts to trap the child, or the mother.
Preeti, a citizen of India, had brought suit in that country under under India's Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, when her husband abandoned her in that country after the couple returned for a family wedding. The Court in India had approved an agreement between the parties that Preeti would return to Rhode Island after nearly a year and a half of separation, and that the case in India would be dismissed. The Indian judge, with what turns out to have been great foresight, held entry of dismissal pending the actual reunification.
Needless to say, the India Courts were not impressed to learn that upon Preeti's return, she was prohibited from coming into her husband's home, and served with a restraining order, and a complaint for divorce seeking custody of the parties' infant child.
The Indian Court cited the Husband for fraud, terming his conduct "disdainful and contemptuous." He has been directed to appear on July 19, 2010, in India.
The plight of the wife has been the subject of public concern in India:
Now, said Conlon, the Rhode Island courts have officially declared her free to leave.
Documents relating to the matter are available for download at:
Order Of May 18, 2010 (India)
Order Of May 18, 2010 (Rhode Island Family Court)
On 3/31, Tim was interviewed by National Public Radio's Barbara Bradley Hagerty for All Things Considered on legislation affecting the "priest/penitent" privilege and confessions by priests to child sexual abuse. The entire interview is online at NPR.org.
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