Times of India
MUMBAI: The Bombay high court said a family court judge had erred in appointing a psychiatrist instead of a child psychologist to evaluate a child caught in a custody battle. Justice AM Badar stayed an order of six-day access to a mother of her six-year-old till her evaluation by a child psychologist.
Justice Badar, presiding over a vacation bench, said, “Counselling child psychologists take a behavioural approach to emotional problems of children. Psychologists treat emotional and mental suffering in a patient with behavioural intervention. As against this, a psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor who takes care of medication management of a patient.”
“In this case,” said the judge, “what is required is a report from a child psychologist on evaluating the behaviour of a child in her resistance to be with her mother. However, it appears that the family court inadvertently appointed a psychiatrist, said the HC, calling for suggestions of names of child psychologists from the mother, to nominate one.
“Children facing several emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety and child abuse require necessary care and help from a child psychologist, who specializes in interpreting the thought process and actions of children to come up with appropriate mental health treatment,” said Justice Badar.
But the father’s counsel, Veena Thadani, said the child, who since February is “traumatized and scared” to accompany her mother, needs to be evaluated by a child psychologist first.
At the father’s request for evaluation, the family court in Bandra had in April appointed leading psychiatrist, Dr Harish Shetty, who has counselling experience of three decades, and one of his areas of expertise is listed as “behavioural problems in childhood”. But opposing the order in the HC, the father said Dr Shetty is a child psychiatrist and submitted a list of child psychologists instead, to evaluate the child. Thadani assured the court that he would give “compensatory access” to the mother, if nothing adverse is found in an evaluation by a child psychologist.
The HC accepted that and said, “Welfare of a child is of paramount consideration.” A psychological evaluation will give a clue as to who hurt the child and the reason for her reluctance to join her mother, said the judge.
The father submitted a list of child psychologists in the HC. Not agreeing with that list, the mother through her counsel, Vivek Pandey, offered to submit her own on May 30, but sought time on Tuesday. The court adjourned the matter to June 23.
The father’s case was that the mother deserted them when the child was less than two years old, and pending a divorce petition filed by him, he had been giving her regular access of the child, who lives with him. He alleged that the mother had hurt her on one of the access dates by “pulling” at her while she clung to him in January, and ‘hurting’ her again in February. He produced medical certificates to show “wounds” on her little arms and back. The mother denied the allegations “made with an ulterior motive” and said the child was not in her custody on those days. She said so far she has been getting regular access, there was never any complaint of her ill-treating the child, and the summer vacation access cannot be denied to her.
The HC said, “Minors cannot be treated as chattel for claiming custody. Powers to grant access, visitation right or custody of a minor are not to be exercised in the interest of parents, but in the interest and welfare of a minor child. While handing over custody of a minor child, the court is required to keep in mind that health, safety and overall welfare of the child will properly taken care of by the parent to whom the custody or access is being given.”