This Article is From Apr 17, 2012

Norway custody row: Crucial hearing begins for NRI couple

Norway custody row: Crucial hearing begins for NRI couple
Stavanger, Norway: Today is a crucial day for the Bhattacharyas whose children were taken away by the Norwegian child welfare services in May last year. A Stavanger district court has begun hearing their case that will decide the fate of their children who are presently placed under foster care.

The Child Welfare Services (CWS) had earlier agreed to recommend to the court that the children's custody should be given to their paternal uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya. Mr Bhattacharya, who is a dentist in Asansol in West Bengal, used to work for a polyclinic with a group of doctors. The clinic, however, replaced him with another dentist as he has been away from work for three months and has also made long trips to Norway since the custody issue came up last year.                          

A judge, a psychiatrist and a Norwegian citizen are hearing the case which is not open to the public or the media. The children's father, Anurup Bhattacharya, their uncle and officials from the Ministry of External Affairs are present during the crucial hearing. Their mother, Sagarika Bhattacharya, is in Calcutta. She left Norway last month following a dispute with her husband who claimed that she was physically violent with him. After their fight became public, the CWS withdrew from their earlier commitment to suggest to the court that the uncle should be made the children's guardian. The agency said that it was worried about the prospect of the mother filing a fresh custody case when the children returned to India. But the Bhattacharyas put their differences aside to sign an agreement for the court that has the parents and the uncle as parties. According to the agreement, the two sides will concur with the new arrangement where the children would be placed under the custody of the uncle until they turn 18. A line in the agreement that said that this arrangement would not be challenged in any other court of law was removed at the mother's request. The CWS wanted this clause in the agreement to prevent the children from going back to their mother.

The CWS officials are also present at the hearing today. The mother may be asked to testify on the phone from Calcutta. The family lawyer has filed nearly 400 pages for the judge to read. The hearing is likely to last for about three hours but the judge has, so far, said that she needs at least a week to announce the verdict.

If the judgement does not come out this week, it could pose fresh problems for the family as Arunabhas' visa expires on April 20. He has been asked to apply for an extension for his visa.

If the court decides to put the children under their uncle's care, they will fly back to India, accompanied, in all likelihood, by their foster father, the lawyer and CWS officials. Since the children don't have valid visas, the family is worried that their transfer during the flight back to India might become a problem. They are likely to take a flight via Amsterdam or Frankfurt.

The children, in the meantime, have been allowed to visit their uncle who is presently staying in the same house where they use to live with their parents. Interactions with their father, who is still in Norway, have not been allowed yet by the CWS.