In lockdown, estranged parents can have electronic access to kids: Supreme Court

A plea in the Supreme Court on Thursday sought direction to resolve the custody issue faced by a parent, who could not get custody of the children, due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown, which obstructed physical visitation.

The petitioner argued before the bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and B.R. Gavai, that for nearly one and a half months, people have been locked in their houses, and it is taking a toll on the mental health of children.

“Child should be given contact with a non-custodial parent, at least in the case where the parent already has visitation rights, they should be allowed to contact children electronically,” said the petitioner. The hearing on the matter was through video conferencing.

The bench observed that in a custody dispute case where the mother does not allow the child to talk to the husband, the court cannot issue general directions. The petitioner urged the top court to lay down guidelines for those parents who are unable to interact with their children due to the lockdown.

The petitioner urged the top court for daily electronic access in the form of a minimum one hour video call to be facilitated between the child and non-custodial parents who have already been granted visitation rights by any competent court.

To this, the court said: “Learned counsel for the petitioners himself concedes that wherever the parties are mutually agreeable, they can always arrange for an electronic interaction and if there is resistance, they will have to approach the concerned family court for the purpose.”

The bench noted that if they pass orders and the custodial parent does not follow it, then the court will be flooded with contempt cases. “How can we issue nationwide directions? We would not know whether visitation is taking place or not.. we will make some observations on the role of family courts,” said the bench.

The top court noted that where visitation rights have already been given, then electronic access should be given, and if it is not done, then the aggrieved parent can move the family court, which is dealing with the matrimonial case.

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