Japanese law revised to improve enforcement of child custody handovers

Kyodo, JIJI

The Diet enacted a legal revision Friday to enable a child to be handed over to a parent who has been awarded custody, even if the other parent refuses to abide by a court order to do so.

Before the revision, the civil implementation law had no clear stipulation regarding child custody handovers. Court officials had to rely on a clause related to asset seizures to enforce court orders, a tactic that was criticized for treating children as property.

The legislation originally required a parent living with a child to be present when the child was handed over to the other parent. With the revision, however, the law allows custody transfers to take place in the presence of just one parent, rather than both. The revision removes this requirement to prevent parents without custody rights from thwarting child handovers by pretending they are not at home.

In consideration of the children’s feelings, the revision requires in principle that parents with custody rights be present during handovers.

The amended law urges courts and enforcement officials to make sure handovers do not adversely affect children’s mental or physical well-being. The new rules will take effect within one year of promulgation.

Parliament also enacted an amendment to legislation implementing the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty providing a framework allowing the return of a child abducted by a parent living in another country.

The amendment was drafted in response to international criticism that handovers of children from Japan cannot be carried out smoothly, although the country joined the treaty which is designed to prevent cross-border parental abductions of children after the breakup of international marriages.

Japan maintains a system of sole custody, and in a large majority of cases, when a dispute reaches court, mothers are awarded custody after divorce. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers when their parents break up.

The civil implementation law was also amended to allow Japanese courts to obtain information on debtors’ finances and property. The change is aimed at helping authorities seize money and property from parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations and from people who do not compensate victims of crime.

The revision also bars members of crime syndicates from acquiring foreclosed real estate properties in public auctions.