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Nationality no barrier for spouses seeking protection from violence

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Reader S writes: “I am a U.S. citizen married to a Japanese national with two kids. My husband is mainly psychologically and emotionally abusive towards me (name calling, insulting, etc.). He hasn’t done much physically yet, but he has threatened to kill me on one occasion.

“Is it possible to file a restraining order? How long does it last? What happens after? What about child support during this time?”

The Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims allows victims of physical violence or threats to their life from spouses or ex-spouses to apply for a restraining order. Article 23 of the act clearly states that the relevant officials have to ensure the safety of victims regardless of their nationality. In your case, although your husband hasn’t been physically violent toward you, the fact that he has threatened to kill you means you are eligible to file for such an order.

Once a restraining order has been issued, the abuser is prohibited from approaching the victim at the victim’s home or any other place where the victim is staying, and from loitering in the vicinity of the domicile, workplace or any other location normally frequented by the victim. They are also prohibited from some other acts — such as requesting a meeting with the victim or making calls or sending emails to the victim incessantly — upon petition from the victim. Restraining orders are effective for six months, and the victim would need to file a petition again to obtain a restraining order for another six months if necessary.

If the victim is living in the same house as the abuser, a restraining order cannot be issued. In this kind of situation, ideally the victim should first leave the family home where the perpetrator is living before filing for a restraining order. Of course, this is not always practical when the abusive partner is present, and in such a case, the victim may file a petition for a “leaving order” first, which requires that the abuser leave the shared home for two months while the victim organizes new accommodation and moves out themselves.

A petition for a restraining order or a leaving order (collectively referred as protection orders) should be filed with the district court in the area where the abuser or victim has an address. As the first step before preparing a petition, it is advisable to visit a Spousal Violence Counseling Support Center or police station in your area to seek advice or assistance, as the information on your contact with those agencies needs to be included in the petition. Without these documents, you would instead need to present a notarized affidavit containing a description of the abuse along with the petition for it to be accepted. A list of Spousal Violence Counseling Support Centers is available on the website of the Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office at www.gender.go.jp/e-vaw/soudankikan/pdf/center.pdf. Support centers will not fill out the petition for you, however, so you may need to consult a lawyer if you are unable to fill in the form in Japanese yourself or don’t know anyone fluent who can help you.

If you are a foreign resident with a spouse visa, separation from the Japanese spouse for six months or more is usually sufficient grounds for revocation of the visa. However, domestic violence is considered a legitimate reason for separation and a spousal visa would not be revoked in this kind of situation.

A restraining order may also contain an order to the perpetrator to refrain from approaching the minor child living with the victim, if the victim so wishes. However, protection orders under the act can’t include orders for other purposes, such as those related to issues of child custody or support payments. To demand the latter, you need to file an application for a spousal support order — which also includes child support — at a family court rather than your nearest district court.

Mikiko Otani is an attorney with the Foreigners and International Service Section at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving foreigners in the Tokyo area (www.t-pblo.jp/fiss; 03-6809-6200). FISS lawyers address readers’ queries once a month. Questions: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

  • Ian Clegg

    Why no coverage of the Japanese smack shacks scandal? Why the big media blackout? Very suspicious!