x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Divorce visiting rights rules 'take toll on children'

Legal and social experts say strict visiting rules are denying children the chance to build proper relationships with both parents.

Rashid Tahlak, an Emirati lawyer, has called for a change in the visiting rights rule.
Rashid Tahlak, an Emirati lawyer, has called for a change in the visiting rights rule.

The increasing divorce rate and strict rules governing visiting rights are harming the nation's children, say legal and social experts.

They say children's development can be badly affected when they are denied enough access with both parents to build proper relationships.

The law guarantees visiting rights but non-custodial parents say the details, determined by the judge, are often limited, with some only seeing their children for a few hours a week.

Now parents are calling for the laws to be brought into line with international standards.

Meera lost custody of her 10-year-old daughter when she remarried, as the law states guardianship reverts to the father in such cases.

"My daughter is no longer young," Meera said. "I've raised her on my own for the past seven years and she didn't used to see her father much.

"Now she lives and eats with him and only gets a short time with me every week."

Such limited visits can harm children as they develop, experts say.

"It would have psychological effect on them. They will even start behaving badly," said Dr Ibrahim Obaid, the undersecretary of the Emirates Sociologists Association.

"In divorces, children are the ones who are affected, they are the victims."

Rashid Tahlak, an Emirati lawyer, said visiting rights was an area that needed change.

"One or two hours a week is not enough," Mr Tahlak said. "Both parents should see the child. The visibility is not only to see them, but to communicate and connect with them.

"It should be for at least six to eight hours, or a whole day."

SA, an Indian father, lost custody of his seven-year-old daughter in 2009. He has been allowed to see her for only two hours on Fridays and another two on Saturdays.

"The international standard is that one should see his child for at least 25 per cent of hours of a week," he said. "The UK policy is more friendly and grants up to 30 per cent but here in the UAE I am only allowed 2.4 per cent of a week with my daughter.

"Every time I meet her we have less to talk about. I fear my relationship with her is loosening because of this divide. Whenever I meet her I buy her toys and drinks. I try my best to bring her closer to me. I ask her what she wants and I buy it the next time we meet."

SA is only allowed to see his daughter at the General Women's Union (GWU) under supervision.

Noura Al Suwaidi, the general director of the GWU, said such child exchanges were a great advance on six years ago, when visits were held in police stations.

"Imagine taking a three or a four-year-old to the police every week," Ms Al Suwaidi said. "They would grow up hating the community and everyone. Here we provide them with a good, safe atmosphere."

She said sometimes the child was allowed to be taken outside, as long as the custodial parent agreed.

Ultimately, lawyers say, the only way to completely protect the children is to try to ensure divorces do not happen. They blamed the nation's high divorce rate on alimony provisions and a lack of information on what marriage and divorce really mean.

And although some called for a change in the law to prevent judges from severely limiting visiting rights, one FNC member and lawyer suggested that there should be marriage courses for betrothed couples.

Ahmed Al Zaabi, the chairman of the Legislative and Legal Affairs committee in the council, said some people sought divorce for "petty reasons".

"A women came to me to ask for a divorce because her husband did not allow her to drink coffee with her girlfriends at the InterContinental hotel every day," Mr Al Zaabi said.

"Pre-marital lessons would definitely help lower the rate."