India – Mumbai – ‘Equal access a must in child custody battles’

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‘Equal access a must in child custody battles’

Swati Deshpande, TNN 9 September 2009, 02:52am IST

             

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MUMBAI: The TOI report on estranged dads fighting for custodial rights of their children (edition dated September 8) has prompted others parents in

 

a similar predicament and experts to come out and question the entire concept of restricted access to kids (mostly for divorced dads and those fighting lengthy divorce cases) at the family court complex.

Psychiatrist Kersi Chavda told TOI on Tuesday that both parents should ideally be available for a child caught in the centre of a divorce battle for its all-round development.

“If there is abuse, access can be restricted but this is not the case in 99% of divorces. Yet, interim custody is often granted only to one parent and the other has very limited access, resulting in a stilted atmosphere for the child whose identification with one parent becomes less. The family court does not have a child-friendly atmosphere. A meeting in natural home environs is significantly better,” he added.

Chavda said parents must not let their egos hamper their child’s interest. They should realise that restraining or brainwashing the child against meeting the other parent would only disrupt the sense of security and balance of the child and make him/her “manipulative, angry or withdrawn”.

A former chief counsellor at the Bandra family court says that meeting a child in the court room’s cramped confines, along with 20-30 other children on Saturdays, may make the child foster negative emotions about the meeting. Several counsellors suggest that, except the rare case where a parent is abusive, equal access, as in developed countries, could be encouraged at the non-custodial parent’s house or a neutral child-friendly location outside court. Children In The Centre (CITC), a group set up by dads who are fighting out their divorces, access and custody battles, is advocating just that.

The group was flooded with mails from fathers around the world. At least 15 dads facing a similar run-around over access said they felt “so frustrated” sometimes. One father from Kerala said: “I yearn for my son’s smell, his touch, his voice.” But his wife doesn’t let him even talk over the phone to his five-year-old.

A man from Burdwan in West Bengal said wistfully, he wished, he was allowed more time with his 10-year-old son. Another said despite bi-monthly access ordered by the court after his divorce, he had spent exactly 30 minutes in the last one year with his child. Access orders being flouted with impunity and no action being taken are the common complaints, but non-payment of maintenance would attract jail terms.

“Even to speak with one’s child over the phone requires a written application each time,” M Shah (name chan-ged), a CITC member, said.

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