An NGO Child Rights Foundation based in Mumbai has been working for shared parenting and reasonable access of children to fathers/both parents; and high courts of Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh have included these guidelines as either recommendations or as a guidance document, to be followed by judges of lower courts including sessions, district, family court judges, marriage counsellors in matters of deciding upon child custody and visitation orders.
A probably first of its kind May 2015 judgment of Bandra, Mumbai Family court which gave shared interim custody to both father and mother was based on these guidelines. You can read both to compare that most points and parenting plan in the family court judgment are based on above document.
This custody and shared parenting plan document can be used by all fathers who want either shared/equal custody, meaningful visitation, including sharing of festival days/holidays/vacation etc with their child(ren). A word of warning though: Divorce industry cannot run successfully by educating fathers and husbands of their rights, and giving them all options and unbiased information. So it will be mainly your job to educate your lawyer about these guidelines in case you find him/her repeating ignorant/lazy statements of the kind: “Child is too small”, “Child is less than 5 years old”, “Mother is best for children”, “Custody is given to mother” etc etc. These guidelines go beyond such simplistic/lazy thumb rules being followed out of judicial precedents, tradition, laziness, and misplaced theme of women’s rights overwhelming best interests of children. The guidelines also cover relatively new topics in Indian psychological community like Parental Alienation of the child against non-custodial parent.
What is the force of these child custody and shared parenting guidelines?
Following extracts are taken from letters by Registrars of various high courts, which give an idea of the kind power these guidelines can have.
Bombay High Court/State of Maharashtra: It has status of a base guideline document, on top of which judges can evolve a shared parenting plan.
I am directed to state that the Hon’ble Guardian, Judges of the Famiy Courts in the State of Maharashtra, have been pleased to approve the Parenting Plan as a base document to be modified as per the facts and circumstances of the case.
I am directed to inform you that the Hon’ble Guardian Judges of the Family Courts in the State of Maharashtra, have been pleased to direct the circulation of the Guidelines amongst the Family Court Judges and the Marriage Counsellors in the Family Courts across the State of Maharashtra.
I convey my gratitude for your kind gesture in preparing a detail guidelines which may prove beneficial to the Judges of the Family Courts as well as the Marriage Counsellors in determining Child access and custody matters.
I am directed to state that the Hon’ble the Chief Justice is pleased to direct circulation of the Child Access and Custody Guidelines among all the Hon’ble Judges of the Bombay High Court.
Madhya Pradesh High Court: It has status as a guidance document.
I am directed to state that the Hon’ble the Chief Justice is pleased to direct circulation of the ‘Child Access and Custody Guidelines’ and ‘Parenting Plan’ for guidance amoung all the Additional District Judges, Family Court Judges and Marriage Councellors in the State of Madhya Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh High Court: Status as enforceable recommendations
I am to inform you that Hon’ble High Court of Himachal Pradesh has approved the Parenting Plan with Child Access and Custody Guidelines. Accordingly, communication has been sent to all the District and Sessions Judges with a respect to enforce these recommendations in their respective Divisions.
Since three high courts of the country have approved these guidelines, and along with pending recommendations of the Law Commission on shared parenting and joint custody, it is quite likely that within few years, these guidelines can become a standard in all family courts of the country for making decisions about child custody and visitation. Of course the divorce and DV industry will try to scuttle or dilute these guidelines by trying to raise ‘concerns’ about domestic violence and threat to children etc, so it’s up to fathers to become active in lobbying law commission and lawmakers, and make shared child custody/parenting as a mandatory demand within their overall legal cases, which may mean filing GWC cases instead of asking for mere visitation within HMA (or even DV Act), which doesn’t get taken seriously in courts.
Update Aug 6th, 2016: Here is a new post with Draft of PIL (public interest litigation) based on PIL filed in one of high courts implement the guidelines for shared parenting. Since we are awaiting official copy of the passed guidelines, the name of the high court will be disclosed as soon that is received. The same PIL, after modifications, can be used by other fathers who are desirous of having a just and equitable chance at getting proper custody rights and access to their children.