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Old 21st September 2015, 02:09 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Helping kids caught between warring parents



More will be done to deal with an unhappy side effect of divorce - the angry bickering of divorced parents over access to their children.

With the rising number of divorces here - 6,861 last year, a 17 per cent rise from 5,850 in 2004 - more children find themselves caught between warring parents.

The parent with whom the child lives may block the other from seeing the children, the police are frequently called and accusations are hurled, all to keep the children away from the other parent.

To help safeguard the interests of children, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will have more agencies providing a supervised visitation programme by the end of next year.

Currently, only the THK Centre for Family Harmony offers such programmes for separated or divorced parents to see their children.

A ministry spokesman told Life the programme will be provided by some of the four non-profit centres designated as divorce support specialist agencies.

They will handle cases referred by the Family Justice Courts and Syariah Courts. No other details are available yet.

Welcoming the move, divorce lawyers said up to half the parents they see disagree over access to the children.

"The denial of access is a very emotional issue. It is messy, ugly and most intractable," said lawyer Stephanie Looi.

Lawyers said some parents deny access to get back at their ex-spouses for various failings.

Where visits do happen, some kick up a fuss over the smallest matters, such as if a child is brought home late. Others allege abuse if the child returns with an injury even from an accident while at play.

It is not uncommon for warring parents to call the police during or after such visits, alleging all sorts of abuse by their ex-spouses.

Lawyer Lee Terk Yang added: "Some mothers are over-protective. They genuinely feel that their ex-husbands are unable to care for their children properly."

And there are those who "brainwash" the children against seeing the other parent.

In the most acrimonious cases, lawyers say, the courts have ordered that the access takes place at the THK Centre for Family Harmony in Circuit Road.

For example, the parent who has the child will drop him off at the centre and leave. The other parent comes to the centre and spends time with the child there, supervised by the centre's counsellors.

Its divisional director, Dr Katijah Dawood, said the arrangement minimises contact and the potential for conflict between the feuding couple.

Both parents are also counselled to help them see that it is best for the child to have a relationship with both parents.

The centre, set up by the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities in 2006, handles about 180 cases a year, double the figure when it started.

Family lawyers said that without this service, some parents may not get to see their children at all.

Lawyer Yap Teong Liang said: "At the centre, without their mums around, the children may feel less stressed and less influenced by her and be more open to interacting with their father."

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar added: "It's no longer about you and me, but there's a neutral third party who will report the visits to the court."

Dr Katijah said many children feel torn between their parents and need help from counsellors to cope. "They may still want to have a relationship with their other parent, but one parent does not want them to," she said.

Since 2011, the Family Justice Courts have made it compulsory for all divorcing couples with children to attend counselling and mediation sessions at the courts' Child Focused Resolution Centre.

This is meant to help them work out care arrangements for the children, such as custody and access issues, instead of fighting over them in court.

Lawyer Tan Siew Kim said: "The counselling and mediation sessions are very good as they help parents focus on what's best for the child and help reduce acrimony right from the start."

theresat@sph.com.sg

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