Children suffer as parents continue legal battle for child custody

There has been a rising trend recently among parents appealing to the court for child custody.
Prothom Alo illustration

A twelve-year-old child came to the High Court from Noakhli with its mother. The child sat silently on the last bench of the courtroom. The child was brought to the court on 16 October following a petition filed by the father.

The parents have already separated and the child stayed with the mother. But the father through his lawyer appealed to the court stating the grandmother wants to see the child.

The High Court bench of justices M Enayetur Rahim and Md Mostafizur Rahman on 16 October granted the child permission to stay with the grandmother for a day.

The next day, the child was handed over to the custody of the mother. The court said whenever the father gets time he can visit Noakhali to spend time with the child.

During the hearing that day, the court observed that is no relationship worse than that if a husband and wife's relationship falls apart. Children bear the brunt. And, this has been increasing in recent times.

There has been a rising trend recently among parents appealing to the court for child custody. After getting separated or beginning the process of separation, the husband and the wife or the parties concerned go to court on the allegations of the child being detained illegally.

There is no specific data on the number of cases related to the matter or pending settlement. However, eight cases came into the limelight from 2018 to 2021. Four of these cases were in 2021, one each in 2019 and 2020 and two cases were in 2018.

According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), they have recorded 375 disputes over family feuds, including 19 incidents over child custody, from January-September this year. ASK and the court negotiated the settlement of three complaints each while another 13 complaints are pending ASK's settlement.

Associate professor of National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital Ahmed Helal told Prothom Alo both marriage and separation are legal issues. But if children get directly involved in it they become a part of the process. Sometimes, children are to appear in a family environment or a court. The involvement of children in family disputes may hamper their personality development and create mental pressure. It may affect the personality and the family life of the children in future, he added.

Ahmed Helal further said the separation process should be limited to husband and wife and children should be kept out of the entire process unless it is absolutely necessary.

Three more incidents this year

A case on the custody of two children from Japan is pending with a joint bench of justice M Enayetur Rahim. The father of the children is a Bangladesh-origin US citizen and the mother is a Japanese citizen.

The High Court gave the parents the opportunity several times to settle the issue through the lawyer. The court even said both parties can place specific proposals that would be better for the children. Since there was no apparent negotiation between the parties during the hearing on 30 September, the court fixed 21 October for the next hearing. The court said two children would stay with their mother at a Gulshan residence and their father can visit them by during the day until 21 October 2021.

According to the counsels, a lawyer and an actress tied the knot in 2018. Following discontent between the couple, the husband gave the wife a divorce notice on 29 April this year. The couple have two children. The elder child stays with the father and the younger one with the mother. The mother filed a petition alleging the father has kept the elder child detained illegally. Following the hearing, the High Court issued a rule on 14 September and ordered the father to bring the child to the court at 10:30am on 27 October.

A Bangladeshi businessman married a woman from an Indian Muslim family in Hyderabad of India on 4 July 2017. The couple had a baby boy in 2018. But the husband sent the wife a divorce notice on 11 August this year. The allegation surfaced against the husband for assaulting the wife. After that, relatives of the woman informed a human rights organisation about the matter and sought legal assistance. Then the rights body along with others filed a petition to ensure so that the three-and-a-half-year-old child and the mother are not kept confined illegally.

The High Court first issued a rule and ordered the mother to appear in the court. Later on 26 August this year, the court said the child would stay with the mother for now under the arrangement of the rights organisation. The father can stay with the child for three days a week. And the order would be in place for two months.

The child in mother’s custody

An actor and a model got married on 28 May 2015. The couple had a baby boy on 25 June the next year but they got separated on 19 October 2019. Since the child stayed with the father, the mother went to court for custody of the child.

The High Court on 26 February gave its decision after hearing. The court said the child would stay with the mother and the father can take the child for two days a week. If any party wants to take the guardianship of the child they can file a case with the court concerned. According to Ripon Kumar Barua, the legal counsel of the mother, the child has been in the custody of the mother since the High Court decision.

Australian child’s whereabouts unknown

A Bangladeshi-origin Australian citizen tied the knot with a Bangladeshi woman through an arranged marriage on 18 December 2018. A baby was born to the couple in 2016. Since the father is a citizen of Australia, the baby received citizenship by birth. The mother took the child to Australia on 28 March 2017.

At one stage, the father and the grandmother allegedly left Australia with the child without informing the mother and then they came to Bangladesh. On 29 October 2019, the man sent a divorce notice to his wife staying in Australia. After that, the child's maternal grandmother and grandfather filed a writ petition with the High Court to get the baby. The High Court on 13 November 2019 issued a rule and ordered the father and the grandmother to bring to child to the court. However, the child was not brought to court on the fixed day.

The legal counsel of the child's aunt told the court the father and the grandmother left the country before the writ was filled.

The lawyer of the child's maternal grandmother and grandfather, Hassan MS Azim told Prothom Alo the High Court on 19 December 2019 ordered the immigration officials to inform the former once the baby holding Australian citizenship returns the country. Since then, no progress has been made so far, he added.

Two children in mother’s custody

A couple who got married in 2002 has two sons. One is 12 and another is 9. The husband sent a divorce notice to the wife over a marital dispute on 12 May 2017 after a week the man sent the two children to another place. Meantime, the mother couldn't see the children. She appealed to the High Court for child custody. The High Court ruled on the matter on 29 May 2017 and ordered the police concerned and the father to bring the children before the court.

The two children were brought to court on 25 June 2018. During their court appearance, they said they want their parents to be together. The court then said the children would stay with the mother for now and gave the parties time and ordered them to inform the court about the progress.

The mother’s lawyer, KM Riad Salimullah told Prothom Alo the children have been staying with the mother since the court order and the case has not been disposed of finally as yet.

Two children in father’s custody

A businessman from Chattogram and a woman got married on 12 March 2007. The couple has a son and a daughter. They separated on 21 November 2017. The two children had been staying with their father since the separation of their parents. The mother, however, filed a petition to the High Court for child custody in January 2018. The High Court on 24 January that year issued a rule with an order. The order stated the two children would stay with the mother from Sunday to Thursday a week and the father can see the children every alternate day by informing the mother.

But the children's parents appealed to the Appellate Division challenging the High Court order. After hearing the appeal, the Appellate Division gave an order on 8 October 2018. Since then, the two children have been staying with their father, according to the lawyer of the children's father Syed Tazrul Hossain.

‘Agreement during marriage’

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there has been an upward trend in divorce in the country for the past several years. Divorce is more among educated husbands and wives. The number of divorces increased 19 per cent in 2019 from 2018. Some 1.4 divorces took place in every 1000 people aged over 15 in 2019.

According to a Prothom Alo report, divorce increased 30 per cent in June-October 2020 with 39 divorces a day.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Supreme Court lawyer Syeda Nasrin said there is a family court in each district to settle any dispute over guardianship and custody of the children. But, recently parents are seen filing a petition to the High Court on the allegations of keeping the children in confinement.

Syeda Nasrin further said parents have to take responsibility for their children's lives. A few issues including alimony, education, custody, guardianship of children once the couple gets separated could be more specified in a prenuptial marriage agreement or an agreement can be made during the marriage. If it is specified during the marriage who would bear this responsibility, the children will not have to suffer during the divorce or the separation process of the parents, she added.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Hasanul Banna