The Chicago Family Law Blog

Chicago Mom Fights To Bring Son Back From India

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The case of a Hoffman Estates mother's attempt to regain custody of her 9-year-old son Tejas, discussed by Chicago Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable, goes beyond state and even federal law. Malini Byanna's son is in the custody of her wealthy and politically connected ex-husband Vikram Akula, who is thousands of miles away in India.

Mr. Constable says Illinois family law attorneys are calling this international struggle "one of the most important and complicated custody cases ever."

Ms. Byanna faces monumental hurdles, not least of which is a 62-page decision by a judge in India granting Mr. Akula custody of Tejas. The boy was baptized as a Christian, but Ms. Byanna claims Mr. Akula lied to the court to take advantage of what she calls a legal system that favors Hindus and males in such proceedings.

But Mr. Akula also has the advantage of being one of India's most wealthy and influential entrepreneurs; a friend of Bill Gates who is lauded for his microfinance business that provides capital to mostly poor women in India. One of his US attorneys was quoted as saying Mr. Akula wanted custody after the "umpteenth manic episode" of Ms. Byanna, while she says Mr. Akula is "narcissistic and pathological."

In other words, this very unusual child custody case has plenty of very ordinary, bitter sniping between the parties.

Chicago family law attorney Marvin J. Leavitt sees it as a clear case of kidnapping, although Mr. Vikram has not been investigated for any crime. Ms. Byanna claims her estranged ex-husband concocted an elaborate scheme to gain custody of their son and keep him in India after an Illinois court awarded sole custody to Ms. Byanna following their 2001 divorce.

Mr. Akula was convicted of domestic battery in 2004 and his visitation rights were restricted. On the advice of Mr. Akula (whom she thought may have changed for the better), Ms. Byanna leased a house in Hyderabad and submitted forms seeking residence in 2009. Little did she realize that this helped lay the legal groundwork that gave India, not Illinois, jurisdiction over Tejas.

A Cook County Circuit Court judge will soon decide whether Tejas' fate resides with Illinois or India. But even a favorable decision for Ms. Byanna likely would be followed with appeals.

Related Resources:

  • International Parental Abduction: Laws and Tips (FindLaw Law & Daily Life Blog) 
  • Update: Japan and International Child Custody Case (FindLaw Law & Daily Life Blog)
  • Directory of Chicago Family Law Attorneys (FindLaw)

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