Ten Years is Too Much
It seems the trend toward urbanization and modernization that is changing societal structures in many emerging nations around the world is also having a similar effect in Russia today, where just like in the U.S., the national divorce rate hovers near 50%. The Russian divorce rate only tells part of the story though, as the real trouble stems from the fact that Russian divorce courts routinely award custody of all children in the home to the mothers in almost every instance, regardless of the situation at home or the father’s wishes. Some analysts have estimated that Russian mothers are awarded custody in 95% of all divorce cases involving children. Left without recourse, many Russian fathers resort to simply grabbing their kids illegally or using them as “bargaining chips” in their ongoing divorce battles.
In order to address the problem of parents stealing their children from each other and using them as negotiation tools, Russian legislators recently drafted a new law that would drastically change the rights of divorced parents. Under the proposed new law, divorced parents who prevented their spouse from seeing their children by taking them abroad or to another city would be subject to 10 years in prison. Ten years in prison is a stiff penalty for the inability to share custody of your children and a wave of negative public reaction followed quickly after the law was announced. Most detractors pointed out that locking up a father or mother for 10 years was hardly in the best interest of any child. The Russian media supported the general public skepticism and openly criticized the legislation as did many Russian divorce attorneys who also lined up against the initiative.
Critics quickly responded with a website called “No to Mothers On Trial” that was able to gather over 15,000 signatures protesting the unusual law and the draconian punishment of 10 years in prison. Appeals were made and spontaneous demonstrations took place outside courthouses where people dressed up as newlywed couples in shackles and chains to draw attention to the absurdity of the proposed initiative. Russian women’s groups also complained about an overall lack of clarity in the vague language in the law which said the crime of “preventing contact with a child” could be applied to many different and confusing situations. The proposal would make a divorced woman who took a child on vacation without asking her ex-husband’s permission guilty of “the illegal transfer of a child” and subject to 10 years in prison. Any time a parent claimed they were denied access to a child for any reason could trigger a prison sentence.
The initiative was confusing, unclear and definitely very unpopular. Overwhelming public resistance to the law apparently made it clear to the Russian legislators that they would have an uphill battle on their hands to get the law passed and the proposal was quickly abandoned by its initiators. Clearer heads prevailed, and a more rational set of rules was quickly drawn up and instead of a 10 year prison sentence, parents who prevent their children from seeing each other will pay a fine on the first offense and a second offense will be punishable by just five days in jail. The new proposal met with general public approval and the matter was resolved until at least the next time Russian legislators attempt to launch another new absurd divorce law.