Saturday, August 13, 2005

Stamped Impressions
Handle child custody with care
Reeta Sharma

THE institution of marriage is breaking at a rapid pace quite like the West. Nowadays, marriage celebrations have been commercialised to the extent that there is less focus on the ceremony and more on the venue, d`E9cor, food spread, DJs and designer wear. Unlike in the past, parents do not teach their wards lessons in tolerance, adjustment, patience and respect for in-laws. As a result, relationships are becoming extremely superficial.

Does graciousness play any role when couples fall apart in marriage? None of the spouses concerned display respect for the time spent together in the marriage. I would like to deal with the question of custody of children in a failed marriage. While Indians have learnt from the West to rush to the courts for a divorce, they have completely failed to grasp the sensitivity with which couples in the West handle the custody of children.

Rajan and his wife decided to part ways because he was having an affair with another woman. Rajan was extremely fond of his eight-year-old daughter but when the divorce proceedings began, his wife did all she could to poison the kid against him.

When a hurt wife and her parents begin to influence the child against the natural father, they are being unfair to the child. Children in such situations can get complexes as they do not have the capability to grasp the situation in a reasonable manner. The mother and her entire family transmit their feelings of hurt and anger to the child not only involuntarily but also in a calculated manner. By denying the father the right to meet the child, the mother is unwittingly also denying the child the love of her father.

Our courts are flooded with cases about the custody of children, because both parents tend to use children to spite each other. Take the example of Sudha. This beautiful woman holds a prestigious public sector job. She had a love marriage with Siddhant and they eventually had two sons. Today her children are eight and 11 years old and suddenly Siddhant doesnít want her in his life. The reasons given to her are that she is a woman of "loose character". Though thereís no evidence of it, the divorce proceedings are on. Meanwhile, both her sons have been taken away from her. They are even being dragged to the court not only to make statements against their mother but also to say that they do not want to live with her. She has been given just two-hour meetings in a month with her sons and that too in the court.

Siddhant and his parents are obviously brainwashing the children against their mother. In this case the kids are being poisoned against the mother and she is being denied access to them. The children are being forced to develop complexes. Nurturing of children comes naturally to a mother while a father has to make an effort. Thereís also no denying the fact that most fathers too are emotionally involved with their children. By and large, all fathers love their children but they cannot bring up children the way a mother can. There are mothers too who prove to be unworthy of motherhood quite like the odd father who may not love his child.

Against this backdrop, itís important to understand that whenever couples want to walk out of a marriage, they should ensure minimum harm comes to children. Till the children are adults, they should by and large be left in the custody of their mothers. But it is not decided so in all cases. For instance, if a father is earning and the mother is simply a housewife, the court takes the plea that since the mother cannot economically support the children, the custody should be given to the father. Itís strange that though motherhood is celebrated in all our shastras, the mother is denied the right to rear her children solely because she doesnít have economic support. Why donít the courts ensure that the "earning" father provides for the children while the mother rears them?

Similarly, the couples themselves should ensure that they do not belittle each other in the eyes of children.

(Names have been changed to protect identities.)