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3rd February, 2010

Source: The Hindu (2006/03/17)

There are some women who willingly give up custodial rights over their children during divorce proceedings.

On custodial rights, the law favours women.

There was a time when it was unthinkable for a woman to give up custodial rights over her children during divorce proceedings. However in the current social dispensation, mothers find that when they have custody, it almost frees the fathers from all responsibilities.

“My marriage hasn’t been working for sometime now and we have decided to go for a divorce. But I do realize and appreciate that Vipul is a great father to my four-year-old daughter. This is why I am seriously thinking of giving up custodial rights over Sonalika. The only issue in my mind is that she might feel that her mother abandoned her to follow her own dreams,” says Deepanjali Sarkar, 34, a Delhi-based media professional.

But do women opt for custody due to social pressure and internalisation of gender roles? Maybe the biggest evidence of this is that all the women this reporter spoke to were ready to talk off-the-record but had reservations about being quoted.

“While I believe that my decision to be a non-custodial parent is in my son’s best interest, I will always have to be apologetic about it. This is probably the reason that I still am thinking about it,” says Aparna Sachdev, 30, a human resources development executive in Delhi.

Lawyers too have noticed the change. “In most cases, mothers still opt for the custody of their children; but now there are some cases where they willingly let go. For instance, there was this case where the girl had gone in for an inter-caste marriage against her parents’ wishes, but was later unable to adjust to the different culture. She then decided to give up her child and come back to her family.

There was another case where the woman wanted to follow her career (she is now in the US) seriously and finally decided to give up custody rights. The child is now with the father in Hyderabad,”says Anzar Hasan, who deals primarily with matrimonial cases in the Delhi High Court.

There has also been an increase in the number of divorce cases and the growing acceptability of divorce in India, especially in urban areas. According to a recent survey conducted by India Todayin four metros — Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata — almost 70 per cent of the divorce cases now involve couples below 35 years of age, driven apart by stressful lifestyle and intolerance. The survey also found a dramatic increase in the number of cases filed by women.

“I feel that I am hardly there for the kid anyway because of my long working hours. But we had a good support system at home with my in-laws. My son is very attached to his grandparents, and I feel that I should not take that away from him. This makes me feel that it might be better if I am the non-custodial parent. However, I must say that this is possible only in situations where there is no animosity between the couple. I know I can visit my son anytime I feel like it,” says Aparna.

The law highly favours women when it comes to custodial rights. “In most cases, custody is awarded to the mother with visitation rights to the father. But of late, there are some instances where mothers give up custodial rights. A case that comes to mind is of a mother who went to the US to pursue further education. Initially she wanted custody, but later realised that it would be difficult because the child was being pulled in two directions by his parents. Finally, the father got custody of the child,” says Osama Suhail, a lawyer dealing with matrimonial cases in Delhi.M

There are, of course, celebrities who rang in the trend sometime ago. The most prominent being Mohammad Azharuddin, former cricket captain and his ex-wife Naureen. There were news reports that Naureen took Rs 2 crore from Azharuddin to give up custody of her two sons. She is now married to a Canadian businessman. Another case is that of model and actress, Kunika, who gave up the custody of her son to carve a niche for herself in Mumbai’s tinsel town.

Lawyer Mayuri Singh of Lawyers Collective, however, has not observed this trend in her area of work — perhaps suggesting that it might still be restricted to a certain socio-economic strata.

“We give legal advice to anybody who needs it, so mostly people who come to us are the ones who cannot afford it. So, in the less financially secure strata of society, I have not come across a woman who willingly gives up custodial rights over her children. They do so only when they are unable to financially support the child for one reason or another,” she says.

– Women’s Feature Service
– Picture by S. Siva Saravanan