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Lawyers call for end to child-snatching custody tactics

Agencies | Updated: 2016-12-30 07:38

Joint custody rare

China's divorce rate more than tripled between 2002 and 2015, reaching 2.8 per 1,000 people, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. This is higher than the most recent estimate for the European Union (2.1 per 1,000 people in 2011) and is not far off the rate in the United States (3.2 in 2014).

While no official data is available publicly, Yan Jun, a district court judge in Beijing, estimated that one parent will snatch a child from the other in 60 percent of cases in which both spouses are seeking custody.

Under the law, parents are rarely granted joint custody, as is the case in some countries. Instead, judges usually give one parent "direct custody", often preferring to maintain the status quo living arrangement for a child aged 2 to 10.

A lawyer at a Beijing family law firm, who declined to be identified, said child-snatching regularly takes place before divorce proceedings, which allows one parent to argue the child has a stable living environment. Li Ying, a Beijing lawyer and advocate for parental rights, said snatching tactics should be prosecuted when a new domestic violence law is enacted in March.

Under this law, beatings, verbal abuse and threatening behavior are considered forms of domestic violence. Some family law experts have said preventing a child from seeing their mother or father, or vice versa, should also be considered psycho-logical abuse.

Even when judges rule in their favor, some mothers complain about a lack of enforcement and sometimes take matters into their own hands.

One, who did not want to be named because her dealings with the courts are still ongoing, said she hired a private detective who found her son living under a fake name with her ex-husband's aunt in northern China.

The court had awarded her custody, but when she complained months later that the order had not been enforced, a court official was blunt.

"She told me: 'Don't just depend on the courts. Are you working hard enough or are you just depending on us to get your child back?'"

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