A Cook County judge has ruled that Illinois, not India, should decide the fate of a 9-year-old boy at the center of an international custody battle between his mother in Hoffman Estates and his father in Hyderabad, India.
India courts never ruled that Malini Byanna and her son, Tejas, had moved from Illinois when they went to India in July 2009, so Illinois courts still maintain jurisdiction over the boy's legal status, decided Cook County Circuit Court Judge Pamela E. Loza.
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"I can't even tell you how relieved I am," Byanna said by phone early this morning from India, where a recent court ruling allows her to be with her son from April 2 - 11. Byanna, a lawyer, thanked her lead attorney Marvin J. Leavitt, a former Illinois Appellate Court justice and veteran partner of Grund & Leavitt, but she acknowledged that her fight to return to Hoffman Estates with her son is not over.
"It's so complex," said the mother, who still has her Christmas tree up awaiting the boy's return and hosted her son's birthday party in Hoffman Estates, which Tejas attended by phone from India. "My hope is that the honorable judge's ruling will motivate the Supreme Court of India to return Tejas into my full custody."
Having received Loza's ruling Monday, attorney Alan Toback, who represents the boy's father, Vikram Akula, said lawyers at the Chicago law firm of Toback Lake were deciding whether to appeal and planning the next step.
"Clearly the case is not over," said Toback.
Byanna, who grew up in the suburbs, married Akula in 1999. The couple divorced in 2002, and Byanna was awarded sole custody of their son, with the father granted visitation.
Last fall, the mother and son went to India and leased a house in Hyderabad. The boy's father, a multimillionaire microfinance entrepreneur who gives lectures alongside Bill Gates, filed legal documents in October to stop Byanna from taking the boy back to Hoffman Estates, and an Indian court issued an order that the boy remain in India.
Loza ruled that Byanna and her son never gave up their home in Hoffman Estates, and that the India court rulings do not comply with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act used by Illinois.
"My son's welfare prompted me to file for custody," Akula said Monday in a statement read by Toback. "For me, the paramount focus is, and has always been, on my son and his well-being. Unfortunately, this is now a legal custody proceeding and it would not be appropriate, or for the well-being of my son, to pursue it in the press, so I will not be commenting further."
In courtroom arguments, Leavitt said Akula filed false documents and used his wealth and power to pull off an international "kidnapping."
"Tejas and I are elated to be together, particularly during this sacred holiday season," Byanna said in an e-mail, "and pray every day for the opportunity to return to our home together and to the friends, family and faith community that Tejas is being forced to leave behind in the U.S."