Tackle practice of denying kids access to other parent in divorce cases

Both Mr Nicholas Tan and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian bring to light a serious problem faced by thousands of children in Singapore who are affected by divorce (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce, March 4; and Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren, March 8).

Because of the way control is granted by the Family Courts, often solely to the mother, many children of divorce end up in "single-parent" families, often longing for but not able to enjoy the company of their biological fathers.

Recent reports of sexual abuse of stepchildren over a prolonged period of time are but the most egregious manifestations of the tremendous mental and psychological abuse that these children are subject to.

In their replies, the Family Justice Courts and the Ministry of Social and Family Development appear to suggest that divorcing parents are to blame for being unable to put aside their differences and co-parent effectively (Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first, March 9; and Ring of coordinated efforts to protect children in divorce, March 15).

The reality is starkly different.

I have witnessed accounts of tactics to deny the other parent access to the child beginning even before the divorce is filed.

A client contemplating a divorce is "advised" by his or her lawyer to take the child away - usually citing "safety" concerns - denying access to the other parent.

A client contemplating a divorce is "advised" by his or her lawyer to take the child away - usually citing "safety" concerns - denying access to the other parent...

Such actions - perpetuated by unethical family lawyers - subject young children to tremendous psychological trauma.

Having done so, the only recourse the alienated parent has to see the child would be to apply through the courts.

This process could take months.

During this entire period, the alienated parent is able to see the child only at once-a-week, two-hour, supervised sessions at the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies.

Such actions - perpetuated by unethical family lawyers - subject young children to tremendous psychological trauma.

They also send the wrong signal to divorcing parents at a time of great emotional vulnerability that children can be used as "hostages" to gain leverage in their divorce proceedings.

Unfortunately, there is little consequence for either parents or lawyers who employ such tactics.

To move towards a more enlightened family justice system, the Family Courts must take a strong stand against parents and lawyers who engage in such behaviour.

It is already very difficult for children to experience their parents undergoing a divorce.

Let us not subject them to further psychological and emotional trauma.

Gordon Quek

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline 'Tackle practice of denying kids access to other parent in divorce cases'. Print Edition | Subscribe