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Push for shared parenting

- Activists for law to make joint custody must in broken homes

New Delhi, Aug. 17: Activists are lobbying to give fathers a fighting chance to get custody of their children in messy divorce cases, demanding that the Guardians and Wards Act be amended to make shared parenting mandatory.

“As of now, there is no specific provision for custody in India. What the law states is that children below five years would stay with their mothers. While there are Supreme Court judgments that state that no one parent can be denied access to a child, it basically depends on the judge,” Dr Rakesh Kapur, a child psychologist, said on the sidelines of an event hosted by the men’s forum Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP).

The first time joint custody was decreed for an estranged couple in India was when Karnataka High Court divided the custody of a child between his quibbling parents for six months each in a year.

That was in September 2013. Nearly a year later, the demand for shared parenting in custody cases has gained momentum.

The activists have already met members of Parliament and now plan to approach the law and women and child development ministries to push for a law on shared parenting, which would in effect make long-drawn-out custodial battles unnecessary.

Children at the centre of such messy battles stand to gain too if such a law works out: a chance to make the best of a broken home.

“Many countries all over the world have realised the pitfalls of a child without both parents and have made shared parenting mandatory,” said Kapur, author of multiple studies on the effects of parental separation on children.

Kapur is also planning to move a public interest petition in Delhi High Court to restrict interviewing children below 12 during parental separation.

In India, there are only two conditions under which a father is likely to get custody of his child: if the mother is mentally unstable and if she has left her marital home without the child.

Globally, however, the case for shared parenting has been steadily gaining ground. Last month, Sweden formulated a law making shared parenting mandatory in divorce cases except in cases where either of the parties were found to have a proven track record of any kind of violence.

Brazil last year passed a law identifying parental alienation as a criminal offence against the parent who has won the custody battle if they don’t allow the other parent access to the child.

Australia had made shared parenting mandatory as far back as in 2006. In the US, 35 of the 50 states practise shared parenting. In Canada, Norway and New Zealand, the provision is in the form of statutes.

“In India, it is held that only the mother has the best interests of the child in mind. In many cases, the father is even denied visitation rights, which again is the discretion of the judge in attendance. There should be clear guidelines on this,” said CRISP president Kumar Jahgirdar, who is lobbying legislatures to frame a bill.