In a bitter divorce, the child’s welfare is often given less consideration while the feuding parties bicker over their rights trying to gain an advantage over the other.
The court hears testimonies from both parties but rarely gives much weight to what the child wants as reported in “Muslim conversion issues exclusively Syariah Court’s jurisdiction” (The Star, Dec 30).
Where the children are of a young age, the mother normally gains custody while the father has visitation rights. In view of the mother becoming a single parent after the annulment of the marriage, the father has the responsibility to provide the ex-wife alimony and child maintenance.
The situation becomes tense when the father washes his hands of all responsibilities over caring for the family by failing to adhere to the alimony payment and child maintenance and brainwashing the child on how bad the other parent is in order to exact revenge over the ex-spouse.
On the hand, the mother too can be faulted for child abuse if she adopts an attitude of “the winner takes it all” conduct by having full custody of the child, getting alimony and child maintenance and then denying the father visitation rights by putting obstacles to make it almost impossible for the father to meet the child.
Children who remain neutral are abused by being bombarded by repeated over-exaggerated untrue stories on how the other parent caused the failed marriage and is totally at fault when in reality, it is both parents failing to salvage the marriage.
Children need to have rights in a bitter divorce, including having a legal voice on what is demanded from each parent.
This should also include the right to be treated properly, the right to stop any parent from constantly telling repeated one-sided stories and the right to ensure both parents conduct and behave themselves properly toward the child.
The provisions of the Child Act need to be strengthened to include jail sentences for the delinquent parent who treats the child badly. This should apply to an adult child who still gets treated badly.
Some parents need to spend time in prison in order to realise and reflect upon their conduct over the child, where child abuse may not necessarily mean physical abuse but include mental abuse, where one parent constantly harasses the child to breaking point when the child does not totally agree with the abuser.
Such abuses must not have a statutory time limit, which means that a child wronged by one of the divorcing parents can still take action against the parent later in life for compensation.
Such child abuses can also happen when the child is already in adulthood, where the divorcing parent not getting custody in the earlier years or bitter over the divorce arrangements continue to mentally abuse the child through scolding, blaming and act detrimentally to the child’s well-being.
Some take advantage of the child’s generosity and forgiveness to gain monetary advantage while there are bad parents who implicate the child in the parent’s personal matters for personal gain.
For example, the divorcing father launching a malicious court case and police reports against other family members on unsubstantiated matters unrelated to the child, but then subjects the child to forced sub-judicial matters in bad faith and influencing the child to commit perjury with malicious intent to benefit the abusive parent, failing which dire consequences would fall upon the child.
Here the child is torn between filial piety and doing the right thing of not getting involved or even reporting criminal conduct to the proper authorities.
Another example is the abusive father not having custody of the child but pretending to have changed for the better, treating the child favourably to seek to temporarily stay at the premises of the child, who is now an adult, only to show his or her true colours once access has been granted.
Children need to be protected even when there is a lack of physical scars evident in a bitter divorce as mental abuse is just as devastating, especially when it continues during adulthood.
Protection such as compensation and jail time for the abusive parent is appropriate to ensure the child is protected in a bitter divorce and that the abusive parent behaves properly around the child.
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