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Leander, Rhea try to resolve bitter separation battle through mediation

High court judge volunteered as mediator; asked them to think of their 10-year-old daughter and the effect that a long, public battle would have on her

After years of slinging mud at each other in public, former lovers Leander Paes and Rhea Pillai were finally persuaded to try and reach an amicable solution behind closed doors. It was thanks to high court judge, who tactfully reminded the estranged couple about the effect a long-drawn, public battle would have on their 10-year-old daughter.

Rhea Pillai and Leander Paes (below) outside the Bombay High Court yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Rhea Pillai and Leander Paes (left) outside the Bombay High Court yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The judge was hearing an appeal from Rhea over the domestic violence case she had filed against Leander. Rhea had filed the domestic violence case in 2013, after Leander filed for custody of their daughter, Aiyana. Rhea had demanded Rs 4 lakh per month as maintenance from Paes. The matter has been in litigation since then (see Recap).

Senior counsel MV Marwari and Kaushal Thakkar, who appeared for Rhea, told Justice Revati Mohiti-Dere, “We demand maintenance and jurisdiction. Don’t dismiss us from the house.”

“There is no violence of any type -- mental, physical or emotional -- as claimed by Rhea,” countered Leander’s senior counsel, Abad Ponda.

Leander made a statement to the judge through his lawyer: “We were in a live-in-relationship. I have never asked Rhea to leave home — I left home for her. We have tried to settle the matter amicably, but her demands have been increasing, so we could not reach any conclusion. I am in the twilight of my career; the Olympics are nearing. I would like to resolve the matter.”

Judge intervenes
“See, there is a girl child involved — a ten-year-old. What will happen to her if you keep fighting legal battles? Blaming each other will not solve anybody’s interest. You know how long litigations take to reach the logical conclusion in the court of law. Have you tried an expert mediator?” asked Justice Mohiti-Dere.

Rhea’s counsel said they had not tried mediation so far, and the judge then asked both sides if they were ready to try it now. Both parties agreed. The judge also asked them to suggest names of independent expert mediators, but when no names came up, the judge asked if they would be okay with her as the mediator. As Leander had to fly out for the Olympics, both sides agreed.

Rhea was not present in the courtroom, but was asked to appear in the judge’s chambers at the Bombay High Court at 4.30 that evening, along with Leander. No lawyers were present as the judge mediated between the two of them behind closed doors. The tennis champ and socialite were asked to return for a second session on June 20.

Recap
Leander and Rhea were live-in partners and had a daughter together in 2006. It was in the same year that they split, but the separation turned acrimonious after Leander filed for custody in 2013, labelling Rhea an uncaring mother. Rhea hit back at Leander and his father, accusing them of subjecting her to domestic violence.

However, Leander questioned how she could claim domestic violence when they had never married. He also added that she was still married to Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt when she was living with him. However, last March, the Bandra Metropolitian Magistrate passed an order in Rhea’s favour, saying that any party — regardless of age or marital status — was eligible to file a case of domestic violence if victimised by a male.

The matter took another twist in December, when a sessions court said the Bandra Metropolitian court should try the case again and examine all evidence before deciding whether Rhea was truly eligible to file a case of domestic violence. It was this ruling that Rhea was appealing against yesterday.

Lawyers hopeful

Abad Ponda, Leander’s counsel
No concrete solution came up today as they just discussed the matter in the first session. But the second round of mediation has been kept for June 20, and we are positive

Dipesh Mehta, Rhea’s counsel
It is a very good initiative taken by the honourable justice, to call both parties for mediation. We are hoping for a positive outcome from it. There is a child involved; such an outcome will surely help both the parties solve the matter at the earliest.

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