• Kyodo

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The Justice Ministry has asked an advisory panel to consider making it easier to seize the assets of people who refuse to pay court-ordered child support or restitution to crime victims.

The move is in response to growing calls for revising the law on executing civil matters so that divorced women and crime victims in dire financial straits can receive some relief.

The envisioned arrangement, put to the Legislative Council on Monday for consideration, will make it easier for a court to inquire with financial institutions about whether debtors have accounts with them and what their balances are, and seize their assets accordingly.

Currently, if a court is to seize money in an account, the creditor must identify not just the financial institution with which the debtor has an account but the branch in which the account exists. It has put an enormous burden on creditors if they have little contact with the debtors.

Among 1,332 single mothers polled nationwide, 263, or 20 percent, were receiving child support from their former husbands on a regular basis, according to a 2011 survey by the welfare ministry.

Fujiko Sakakibara, a lawyer versed in divorce litigation, said that divorced husbands often stop paying child support if their incomes diminish due to job reassignments or changes, after they take an extended leave due to illnesses or after they remarry.

Seizing assets becomes increasingly difficult once former husbands change jobs or change the financial institutions with which they have accounts.

While praising the envisioned move, Sakakibara said that to address the issue in a meaningful manner, there needs to be a system in which public administrators collect debts on creditors’ behalf, as in Europe and the United States.

According to the ministry, in many cases, couples do not decide how to handle child support payments when they first file for divorce.

Out of 124,000 divorces between couples with children under age 20 in fiscal 2014, there were only 77,000 cases in which the couples stated in the divorce papers that they had agreed about child support payments.

Chieko Hara, head of a Tokyo-based consultation center for child support payments, said Japan has a culture in which people think they are strangers once they divorce.

“A social norm to put priority on children’s welfare is not well-rooted in Japan,” she said.

She is seeking stronger enforcement of child support payments, saying Japan lags far behind other advanced countries.

The focal point in the discussion by the Legislative Council will be the extent of queries that courts could make, including refunds on debtors’ life insurance policies, while meeting privacy requirements, observers said.

The ministry plans to submit a bill to the Diet in 2018, if possible, to amend the relevant law, after debate within the advisory panel.

The ministry is also seeking to clarify rules on handing over children in cases where a court awards a parent custody but the spouse refuses to relinquish them, because an existing law has no provision on such cases.

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