It took 3½ years for a 41-year-old mother to be able to meet her 7-year-old daughter on a regular basis after her husband left home with the girl in 2012.
Although she filed a complaint with a local family court, her husband stalled the hearings, saying he was “busy.”
“I was saddened by not being able to watch my daughter grow during the prolonged trial,” said the woman, a company executive who asked not to be named.
In a nation where divorces are increasingly common, cases in which visitation rights aren’t guaranteed are also on the rise. A nonpartisan group of lawmakers is now trying to draft a bill that will ensure such rights.
The bill is aimed at putting in writing a parent’s visitation rights and child support obligations, many of which are now commonly agreed upon verbally. The bill will also include “special consideration” for cases that involve domestic violence, such as denying visitation rights.
“Even if the parents decide to part, they shouldn’t have to part with their child,” said Noboru Sasaki, who heads a group comprised of parents seeking visitation rights, adding that the legislation should stipulate visitation criteria.
But a group supporting victims of domestic violence is worried about how visitation rights could affect the child.
“If visitation rights become the norm, it could be unsettling for the child,” said Keiko Kondo, an executive of a nonprofit organization supporting domestic violence victims.
Even if the child was not the target of violence, he or she could be damaged mentally by witnessing physical or verbal violence between the parents, she said.
When children come to the group’s shelter with the parent with whom they live, and meet the parent from whom they fled, many of them can become mentally and physically unstable at times, suffer from loss of sleep and even harm themselves, she said.
There is also concern that if visitation rights are granted, the abusive parent may learn the whereabouts of the other parent and the child, and try to bring them back home.
Opponents of the legislation are holding meetings and lobbying lawmakers to prevent such a scenario.
According to the health ministry, 225,000 couples divorced while 635,000 tied the knot in 2015. As the number of divorces rises, cases that need mediation for parental and visitation rights are also increasing. But experts point out that family courts are insufficiently staffed to deal with the increase.
The nonpartisan group of lawmakers hopes to submit the bill to the Diet after gaining approval from political parties. But since the situation varies in each case, gaining a consensus won’t be easy.
“I want them to prioritize the feelings of the children,” said Akira Haga, an executive of another group lobbying for visitation rights.
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