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5 Oct, 2009 07:22

Celebrity custody battles highlight faults in family law

Several high-profile child custody battles in Russia are pulling the country's family laws into sharp focus as some mothers are taking desperate measures to see their children again. The Duma took the issue up Monday.

Yana became known not only as the producer of Russia’s first ever Eurovision winner but also as a mother who climbed over a three-meter high fence to see her kids as her ex-husband had denied her access to them.

“My son told me: Dad gave birth to me! You’re not my mom! Prove to me that you’re my mom! He was saying this and his father was roaring with laughter,” pop producer Yana Rudkovskaya said.

It took Yana more than a year before she could talk to her kids and in the end win custody of them.

A similar public wrangle over an 11-year-old boy is continuing between a well-known pop singer and her former partner – a Chechen businessman.

“I haven’t seen my son since July. We returned from summer holidays in America as agreed. We always discussed with his father who the child spends holidays with and when he comes back. On that day I packed his luggage and sent him to Chechnya. I haven’t seen the boy since,” said pop singer Kristina Orbakaite.

Former fencing champion and businesswoman Olga Slutsker turned to the media for help after she realized that the police and judges were powerless.

The man she’s divorcing is a senator and the house where he's locked up the kids is guarded by state police. The first courts did not rule in her favor.

“Women and mothers are not protected by the law in our country. I’m forty plus and I have never asked for something from the state. I’ve always worked hard and gave all my talents and energy to make our country better. Once it’s happened you understand that you’re not protected at all, nobody takes care of you,” Slutsker said.

The link between these cases is that powerful men are trying to prevent access to children from their less powerful mothers. In bitter battles like this the mothers are prepared to use all means possible to gain victory, including using glossy magazines and mass media.

This latest chain of high-profile custody battles seems to go against the general trend as the majority of such cases in Russia are traditionally won by mothers.

Lawyer Aleksandr Dobrovinsky believes this will soon be reversed as more and more fathers are determined to fight for their children.

Recently he successfully helped his male client get custody of his child. He claims the country should step away from the Soviet tradition of favoring mothers.

“We have great laws, but the way they are implemented is terrible! Judges in these courts are mostly women and traditionally they take the mother's side. They know that according to law, a man and a woman are equal, but they believe women are more equal.”

Duma steps in

Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma is considering a revision of the country’s family law. In particular, it was proposed on Monday to equate the keeping of a child by one of the parents against the will of the other with kidnapping. Itar-Tass reports, with a reference to Elena Mizulina – the head of the Committee for Family, Women and Children.

“Russia’s Family Code accepted in 1996 abounds in controversies and inconsistency. It does not take the modern situation into account. The document is outdated,” she said.

“The Code actively provokes family conflicts, rather than help settle them,” Mizulina added.

Mizulina also notes that appropriate amendments must be made to the Criminal Code as well.

Her initiative was backed by a number of prominent figures in Russian parliament, including Aleksandra Ochirova – the head of the Civic Chamber’s Commission for Social and Demographic Policy, and Anatoly Karpov – a chess grandmaster and former World Champion.

As a result, the Duma and the Family Committee were advised to prepare all the necessary amendments to the law to enforce the protection of children’s rights in situations of parental conflict.

Russian family law equally protects the rights of both parents. The loophole is that it doesn't regulate access to a child before the court awards custody to one of them.

And until the legislation changes powerful parents can use money or influence to exploit that technicality.

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