November 4 , 2014
Despite the existence of family court agreements spelling out visitation rights following divorce or separation, more than 40 percent of parents who don’t live with their children remain unable to have any contact with them, a survey conducted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has revealed.
Although it had been known that many parents were not able to visit their children despite the existence of such agreements, the extent of the situation had not been understood prior to this study.
The survey was conducted between February and April this year, with the assistance of lawyers nationwide, on parents who had filed for visitation agreements with family courts. It focused on how satisfied they were with child visitation agreements, whether visits that had been agreed upon were actually occurring, and the payment of child-support fees, among other issues.
Forty-four percent of the 296 respondents indicated that they were “unable to see their children at all.” Twenty-four percent said that they were “able to see their children in accordance with the agreements that had been made,” while 32 percent responded that they were “able to see their children, although not exactly to the letter of the agreement.”
On why court-granted visits were not occurring, the highest response, at 37 percent, was either that “The children did not want it, or the parent living with the children informed me that the children did not want it.” Meanwhile, 31 percent said, “The parent living with the children will not let me see them.”
With respect to how visits took place, 51 percent reported that arrangements were made directly between the couple or ex-couple, while 24 percent said that “relatives were offering assistance” with visitation. Ten percent cited the involvement of third-party organizations. The latter figure revealed that the system of providing institutional support for visitation remains underdeveloped.
One parent who has been deprived of visits remarked via the survey, “Even if I send an e-mail (to the parent living with the children), I don’t get a response for a week or so — and even then, I just get the runaround.”
Meanwhile, parents living with their children pointed out issues such as, “(The parent living apart from the children) is not fulfilling their proper parental responsibilities.”
Survey comments from parents who have been able to visit their children included, “I am receiving assistance from lawyers,” and, “My children are now in the upper grades of elementary school, so I am able to make visitation arrangements with them directly.”
Michiko Fujiwara, a lawyer with the Daini Tokyo Bar Association who assisted with the survey, commented, “The family courts are unable to provide support after agreements have been signed.” She added, “A system is needed wherein local governments and organization-based experts are able to assist or coordinate between parties who are finding it difficult to carry out the stipulated visitation agreements.”
In order to help parents understand the importance of child visitation, the Tokyo Family Court has begun providing them with picture books that illustrate children’s feelings. A special room has also been set up on the court premises to facilitate trial visits, featuring children’s toys and stuffed animals in order to help create a warm atmosphere.
Kazuko Yao, a judge with the Tokyo Family Court who specializes in divorce and visitation agreements, commented, “Even if parents split up, the act of facilitating visitation can help children understand that they are loved. I hope that parents (who are outlining visitation agreements) will put the children first.”
Tokyo Family Court associate examiner Hajime Shiino additionally remarked, “When children are growing healthily, it will also benefit the parents.”