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Leander Paes takes Rhea Pillai to court over daughter's custody

India’s most successful tennis star, who was recently conferred the Padma Bhushan, has cited emotional harassment by partner Rhea Pillai while seeking the court’s intervention to get custody of their daughter and restrain his partner from taking the child out of Mumbai

India's most enduring tennis champion Leander Paes is battling on another court. On Saturday, Paes (40) filed a 27-page petition (a copy of which is with sunday mid-day) in the Family Court in Bandra, seeking the custody of his daughter Aiyana, claiming he is concerned for her safety, welfare and wellbeing. Paes has also sought an order restraining his long-time partner Rhea Pillai from taking their daughter out of Mumbai without the court’s permission.

Leander Paes and Rhea Pillai
Leander Paes and Rhea Pillai have a daughter named Aiyana. Speculation was rife since last year that the duo was headed for a separation 

When contacted, Paes confirmed to sunday mid-day that he had filed the petition in the Family Court at Bandra at 3:15pm on Saturday but refused to comment further. While Pillai, too, refused to comment on the case, her lawyer, Mrunalini Deshmukh said it would be improper to comment on the case till her client received a notice and that Pillai would definitely fight for the custody of her child.

Leander Paes with his daughter Aiyana
Leander Paes with his daughter Aiyana. Pic/ AFP

In his petition, submitted through the legal firm Mridula Kadam Associates, the 14-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic medalist states that he and partner Rhea Pillai (48) “are not married since she did not believe in the institution of marriage.”

Paes claims in the petition, that he first met Rhea, an instructor in the Art of Living Foundation, in November 2003 on a flight to Goa, “where the respondent (Rhea) invited the petitioner (Paes) to make a guest appearance at an Art of Living show in Mumbai.”

Paes says he accepted the invitation and “made a guest appearance at the show following which gradually, with the constant interaction between them, and only after being informed that the respondent was separated from her then husband Sanjay Dutt, their relationship became more intimate.”

The tennis star further claims in his petition that Rhea insisted that she wanted to have a child with him, and “was so stubborn in this demand that she even had the audacity of once telling the petitioner’s father at a luncheon that she wanted a child from his son outside wedlock.”

Seeking custody
Claiming that his partner repeatedly lied to him, the petition argues that Rhea “misrepresented to the petitioner in January 2005 that she was divorced and it was only after being told so that that their relationship became intimate and they begot a child. Thus, in the summer of 2005, Aiyana was conceived but it was only revealed to the petitioner around the end of August 2005 when he was competing in the US Open tournament.

The respondent informed the petitioner that she was pregnant but insisted that he did not have to take responsibility of the child.” However, Paes says he “insisted that since it was his child, he was happy and willing to shoulder and bear the entire parental responsibility.”

Alleging that his personal relationship with Pillai began to deteriorate soon after the birth of the child, Paes says she “completely withdrew herself from their relationship and sexual intimacy with him citing post-natal depression.” It was only later that he realised that Rhea was “deliberately trying to distance herself from him because she was engaging herself in other relationships and pursuing her fantasties.

It is pertinent to note that in the past eight years, there has been no sexual intimacy between the couple. It is only for her comfort, benefit and wellbeing that the petitioner has endeavoured to maintain a cordial relationship with the respondent despite the fact that on an emotional level their co-habitation is akin to that of two strangers living under the same roof.”

The petition concludes by seeking “permanent custody of Aiyana,” and also requesting that Pillai “be restrained by a perpetual order from taking the minor child Aiyana out of the city of Mumbai without prior leave of this Hon’ble Court.”

Rhea’s lawyer reacts
When contacted, Rhea Pillai declined to comment on the case, stating that it was a personal matter. But her lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh said: “We know the petition has been filed but nothing has been served on her, so it will not be proper to comment at this stage.” Asked whether Rhea will fight for her child’s custody Mrunalini said, “Of course. It is natural that she will fight for her custody. She is a mother.”

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