It’s time India gave serious thought to joint parenting
The Supreme Court on Monday sought the Centre’s response on an NGO’s petition seeking a “joint parenting plan” to reduce the trauma faced by children of divorced couples. Petitioner Child Rights Foundation has also sought guidelines for custody battles in the courts, where it said children of those undergoing divorce often face a hostile environment owing to attempts at brainwashing by either parent. At present, courts are empowered to grant a child’s custody to either parent depending on the child’s overall interests and well-being. The petition has pleaded that both parents be granted equal custody rights.
The prevalent practice in the country is to hand over custody to either the father or the mother, taking into account the best interests of the child. But given the impact that alienation from either parent can have on the child, choosing between the father and the mother without taking a considered view of the possibilities of joint parenting might work against the child’s interests. Granting parenting rights to just one parent can play havoc with the child’s emotional and psychological well-being. “Non-custodial parents are relegated to the role of mere visitors in their child’s life and are not allowed to fulfil their parenting role, resulting in the destruction of the parent-child relationship,” argues the petition.
Experts say alienation from either parent makes children more prone to dropping out from school, indulging in crime, taking to drugs, or harbour suicidal thoughts.
But the concept of joint parenting also has its critics. Detractors argue that shared parenting is an impractical alternative to granting exclusive custody to one parent, with visitation rights to the other. The child cannot be expected to shuttle between visiting the residences of the two parents. But the consensus of the judiciary appears to be moving towards shared parenting, albeit gradually. In 2013, the Karnataka High Court ruled in a case that both parents were entitled to get custody and brought into operation an appropriate parenting plan. In 2015, the Law Commission of India, headed by former chief justice of the Delhi High Court AP Shah sought an amendment to the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, spelling out the conditions that the court should consider before exercising the option of joint custody. Before proposing the option, the court needs to assess whether the parents are mature, responsible and willing to agree upon decisions that affect the child’s welfare. The court should also assess whether the parents will be able to jointly design and implement a day-to-day care plan that fosters stability.
Shared parenting systems exist in a number of countries around the world including the US, the UK, Australia, South Africa and the Netherlands. With divorce rates on the rise in India, it’s time our lawmakers gave serious thought to amending the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act to alleviate the trauma that children of estranged parents undergo during the divorce proceedings and the custodial battle. The court could consider appointing at least one trained child psychologist or clinical psychologist in every family court. This will help alleviate the trauma faced by children during custodial litigation