Dads seek change in custody laws

Dads seek change in custody laws

For 11 years, an NGO called CRISP has been protesting on the eve of Father’s Day. This picture is from last year

Divorced fathers fighting for custody of their children say the law is unsympathetic to their cause.

After fighting bitter custody cases for years, some have given up, saying the priority is for their children to enjoy emotional stability as they grow up.

Others persist, seeking full custody of their children: they believe they are as capable as their former spouses when it comes to bringing up their wards.

This Father’s Day, single fathers are again appealing for shared parenting. They want ‘parenting time’ and not just ‘visitation rights.’ The latter term, they complain, makes them feel like criminals languishing in jails.

Game not fully over  

Roshan George, a software engineer, has not seen his eight-year-old son for eight months. He says the law is stilted, and treats divorced fathers like convicts.

“Even criminals are allowed to see visitors but my rights are curbed,” he says.

His son was told that just like a video game, his parents’ marriage was at its ‘game over’ stage. “My son implored me to play the game again and not mess it up this time,” says George, with a lump in his throat.

He gave up on the custody battle when he saw his son suffering emotionally. He has now allowed his wife to take their son abroad for two years, even though he is apprehensive he may not get to see his son even after the period.

Software engineer and entrepreneur Sanjay S (name changed on request) has not seen his children, age 10 and 6, for two years. After fighting a custody case for five years, he gave up as his estranged wife had become caustic, and turned the children against him.

Kid makes a choice

Some fathers report partial success. Neeraj, an employee with Indian Railways, recently took voluntary retirement and continued his fight to secure the custody of his only child, now 12. He is a full-time father now.

When he was denied rights to visit the child, Neeraj threatened to end his life. Police intervened. The authorities eventually allowed him to take his son home. The boy is now refusing to go back to his maternal grandparents, with whom he was living earlier. Neeraj is working to restore his son to good health as he was grossly underweight at 26 kg.

Hostel life at six

Make-up artist Manjunath had no clue about the whereabouts of his daughter. Married to a divorcee with two children, Manjunath was ecstatic when they had a daughter, but his happiness was short-lived: his wife left home and later filed for divorce.

Last year, on Father’s Day, Manjunath traced his daughter to a hostel in K R Puram and got in touch with her, but his estranged wife slapped a police case against him. However, since his wife had “abandoned” the child in the hostel when she was just six, Manjunath was able to convince officials the child was better off living with him. Manjunath is now trying to admit her to a school, but the previous school and hostel are refusing to give her a transfer certificate.  

Kumar Jahgirdar of the Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP) says it is high time women stopped treating their husbands as mere sperm donors.

“A biological father cannot be relegated to being only an ATM. Children need both parents for their well-being,” he says.

How parental alienation affects kids

- Behavioural problems

- Lack of interest in school

- Vulnerable to addictions

- Maybe pushed to self-destruction
(According to studies worldwide)

What changes dads want

Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), a Bengaluru-based group, is campaigning for changes in the law. Some demands:

Divorcing parents must be given equal responsibility for children’s care and upbringing.

Parental alienation, or keeping a child away from a parent, must be treated as a criminal offence.

The term ‘visitation,’ used in family courts, must be changed to ‘parenting time’.

The organisation has sent petitions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Law Commission and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in this regard.

(CRISP is meeting today at 10 am at Town Hall, JC Road, for a protest rally)