Joint Custody of Children In India: A Distant Dream?

Posted on March 27, 2011 in Society


By Amrita Paul:

In spite of its overwhelming population, India still remains one of the countries with the lowest divorce rates. With a rate of 1.1%, it boasts of almost a hundred percent success in marriages even in today’s date. But what about the unlucky few who have got no choice but to part ways? And what about those children who fall prey to such situations? Do they continue to lead a “normal” life or does the definition of normal change for them, forever?

There are various factors which are taken into consideration before guardianship is awarded to either of the parents. Aspects such as financial stability of parent, reported misconduct, character and capacity of parent are given adequate weight-age before the final decision is taken. However, more often than not, mothers are given ownership for their innate ability to handle the child better. There has been a deviation from this trend in recent times, especially when a mother decides to place her career before her child. The question still remains,“Can’t the child have the best of both worlds? Shouldn’t Joint Custody be implemented making both parents responsible the child’s present and future?”

The answer remains yes. In India, the term Joint Custody is still a distant myth. Although physical custody is awarded to only one parent, the child gets to spend enough time with the non-custodial spouse. Hence, it is also unproblematic for the parents to sit down and decide on the expenses over the child. Mostly, shared parenting is beneficial for both the parties.

What is important and very less known is that children and adolescents in divorced families vary in their way of adjustment. For some it might be a breakthrough, a relief from intense marital discord. While the others may suffer from low self-esteem, difficulty with peers or show signs of delinquent behavior. Most children tend to be unaccommodating at the start, but they adjust pretty well with time and carry on with their life. However a minority of this population still continues to remain vulnerable. Since children are not as expressive, parents must seek to communicate the benefits of such arrangements to children to ensure their emotional well-being. Hence joint custody comes as a relief as both the parents can get their fair share to be with the child, and comfort him to the best of their abilities.

Divorced parents are also counseled by advocates to seek joint custody “in the better interest of the child”. Quoting lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh, “Most of the couples who come to seek divorce are good people but the problem is that they may not be compatible and hence unable to live with each other. But the child needs to grow in a healthy environment with the involvement of both the parents.” However, what’s interesting is that there is no specific law in this nation which guarantees joint custody to a separated couple.

An NGO based in Bangalore had taken up this cause on Father’s Day last year stating that a child has every right to remain in contact with both the parents, even after a separation. This law comes handy especially to those fathers who haven’t seen their children for years, even after being given visiting rights by the court. The founder of Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), Mr Kumar V. Jahgirdar is of the opinion that-“Our laws are wife-centric – from the custody of children for divorced couples to allegations of domestic violence to dowry harassment. We are demanding the setting up of special guardian courts in major cities.”

Personally, custody or no custody, I feel that special care should be taken to bring up children in separated families. Instead of seeking vengeance by not allowing the child to meet the other parent, the child should be given adequate time to spend with each of them, to ensure him/her that nothing is amiss, as a personal vendetta, may change a child’s life forever. Also in some cases, separation might have been the right remedy for the parents, but not for the children. Ending with a quote by actress Ann Mitchell, “My mum didn’t understand how I felt as she was too busy being angry”.