‘Exposing flaws in US family law was cathartic, brought sense of relief’

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BY VISHNU MAKHIJANI

New Delhi– To be an author was never in the pipeline until she went through a custodial family law situation for her son, says San Francisco-based entrepreneur Sheetal Ohri, adding: “It was more of an Indian citizen vs US citizen issue in the US courts.”

“There was a bias towards US citizens depriving a mother of her own child’s custody based on immigration status,” Ohri told IANS in an interview on her book “Custodial Battle: Chronicles of an Immigrant Mother who was Delayed Justice in Family Law due to Immigration Status” that has been nominated for awards in the US and the UK.

“I had to write down the issues, the biased situations, the frustration of being an immigrant and not having a status and being deprived of justice or my own son’s custodial rights even though I had not done anything wrong.

“The US family law itself was my inspiration to write about the system. Seeing the biased system, seeing how easily the system was swayed on the basis of citizen vs non-citizen, how the system was flawed when everyone thought US law was the best in the world. Sitting and seeing many cases before my own case and dealing with bias and injustice which was at times intolerable was the reason to write the book,” Ohri explained.

When she started writing her book, she decided that her voice needed to be heard and what better way than to write and be heard to the world through a book which could be resourceful for other parents dealing with similar situations, she added.

She went through many law books, family law data, self-help centres, and details for various states in the US. Extensive research was done on custody sharing and visitation rights, children suffering psychological effects due to parental alienation and much research on South Asian domestic violence.

The book narrates the traumatic tale of the protagonist, Ritika’, and her struggle with the American judicial system in the nearly decade-long custody fight for her son. This gripping and heart-breaking book navigates the reader through the mazes and loopholes of the judicial system in the US and how it tends to work in favour of the powerful and against the powerless.

Ohri tells an against-the-odds story through the character of Ritika and her Indian culture, weaving in her own experiences of that system and her efforts to overcome its many challenges, and imbuing it with her emotions and struggles, as she elevates Ritika’s stubborn refusal to back down in the face of her ex-husband’s oppression and the inequities — subtle and not-so-subtle — of American Family Law.

To this end, the writing of the book was a catharsis.

“Definitely, writing the book was emotional and a catharsis of sorts. After going through a journey of proving myself as a good resident and a good mother in US courts, where I saw bias happening in family court rooms, paying the same or more attorney fees as the other party, it was a relief to write similar situations for my book’s character.

“Writing about the courtroom scenes brought a sense of release more than anything, as that’s where the idea of writing the book had begun. By writing the book, I completed what I had intended to do, which is to let the readers get resources, understand the custody situation and immigration issues which not many understand unless attorneys are involved. I try to provide help through my book detailing family law situations and cases.

“The whole goal was to bring the positive side out from this story for the readers by sharing the story of Ritika, who fought against a powerful judicial system and even in times of adversity, never gave up on herself and her child,” Ohri elaborated.

Does she anticipate any changes in the law to prevent the recurrence of what she has recounted?

“I have seen changes in the last many years in the judicial system. There are training sessions being provided to understand our Indian culture. With the growing South Asian population, the courts are appointing mediators to get training to understand our South Asian culture and way of living. Many local South Asian non-profits are volunteering these trainings to advise on our culture. As far as the immigration status situation goes, the courts are looking into it case by case,” Ohri said.

What has been the response to the book?

“There has been good response to the book. The book has been sold in many countries via Amazon. The book was covered by many local and national print media, TV channels, and podcasts in California and the US. It is nominated for awards and received recognitions in the US, the UK and in India. In India, it is available for sale at Kunzum book store in New Delhi,” she said.

What made her switch roles from entrepreneur to writer and does she plan to take this up as a full-time career?

“I never switched roles. In fact, I continued both aspects of my life together. I wanted to bring the issue of immigration and non-understanding of our Indian culture to US family law courts and thus wrote the book. For now, I will continue to write books but I will also continue my journey as an entrepreneur,” Ohri explained.

What is the next book on?

“My next book is again on real issues. It is based on complicated relationships. I intend to write about real situations and real issues we all deal with in our lives,” Ohri concluded. (IANS)

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