Magazine article Russian Life

Russian Fatherhood: A Battle for Equal Rights

Magazine article Russian Life

Russian Fatherhood: A Battle for Equal Rights

Article excerpt

When they visit their children, they must take along video cameras and witnesses, for they are afraid of being assaulted by their former in-laws. Their kits are thrown away, and their children may be hidden from them for years at a time. They can grapple with legal matters as well as the most experienced of lawyers--they have dozens of cases behind them. They have no intention of surrendering and intend to change the system.

Fathers and Children and Judges

This mis-paraphrasing of Turgenev (1) summarizes the reality faced by thousands upon thousands of divorced fathers in modem Russia.

Igor Serebryany, 46, lives in suburban Moscow. He invites a witness to accompany him on his visits with his son, in hopes of preventing aggression towards him by relatives of his former spouse.

Igor does not drink or smoke. He has two advanced degrees and a good job. Yet since his divorce he has not been allowed to participate in the raising of his three-year-old son. According to Igor, his wife began to interfere with this even before their divorce. "Formally speaking," Igor said, "no one forbids me from seeing him. But they do not allow me to get near him."

Until the district judge twice (in one year) ordered Igor's ex-wife to stop obstructing Igor from the "realization of his paternal rights," Igor was only rarely able to have a normal interaction with his son. "It always took place in circumstances that made any sort of communication impossible. I would arrive at the apartment, and yes, formally I was there, but they would be swearing at me, hitting me, and the child was seeing all this," Igor said.

Igor's wife, Elena, (2) 33 denies that she has in any way hindered her ex-husband from interacting with her son. "I am not against their being in contact, and I do not believe that I am in any way limiting Igor or the child in regard to their rights," she said.

Igor intends to continue seeking full visitation rights, although he does not hold out much hope. The court laid down a schedule for his visits with his son, but Igor cannot get the schedule to be adhered to, and even the court bailiff has no power to help him. "Our courts are themselves violating the law," Igor said. "There is a decision on paper, but just try to get it executed!"

"This is a typical situation," said lawyer Eduard Pankov. "The father wants to have contact with his child after a divorce, but the mother stands in the way." Eighty percent of Pankov's clients are men whose ex-wives do not allow them access to their children.

There are tens of thousands of Russian fathers like Igor Serebryany, where even after a judge sets a visitation schedule, very little changes. When they want to see their children, they are often told some variation of: "the child is sick ..." "he doesn't want to speak with you ..." "she has lots of homework ..." "he is very busy ..."

"In ten years, I have not seen a single case," Pankov said, "where a court has granted a father equal visitation rights with the mother."

According to Alexei Danilenkov, in a 2010 article published in the journal Pravo i Zashchita (Law and Defense), 99 percent of Russian divorces award custody of children to the mother, while in the west the number is around 80 percent, while some 20 percent end in joint custody. (3) And according to sociologist Yevgeny Ilyin, 50-60 percent of divorced women in some way hinder their ex-husband's access to their children. This exacerbates a situation in which, according to Goskomstat, nearly a third of all Russian children presently grow up without a father present. This translates to some 6.5 to 10 million children being raised solely by their mothers. And, according to Ilyin's research, 57 percent of those polled approve of women choosing to raise their children alone.


"The paradox," Pankov said, " is that the law establishes equality between the parents when it comes to raising children. …

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