New procedures for handling family affairs cases at family courts will go into effect in January 2013 when revisions of related laws take effect. Currently, priority is given to investigations and decisions by family courts done at their discretion. Thus there is a tendency that full consideration is not given to the rights and legal interests of the parties involved.

It is hoped that the new procedures will contribute to the settling of family affairs cases in as smooth and reasonable a manner as possible. This is important because such cases often involve family secrets and individual privacies, and are becoming increasingly complex these days.

According to the Supreme Court, the number of civil and criminal trials has been slightly declining across the nation. But the number of family affairs cases — a category that includes divorce — handled by family courts has been increasing. In 2011, such cases topped 810,000, accounting for about 20 percent of the total cases handled by the nation’s courts.

Under the new procedures, family courts will send a photocopy of a written motion of application to respondents. In principle, respondents will also be allowed to look at related records or to photocopy them.

These measures are designed to allow respondents to make full preparations against the applicants who are asking family courts to start legal proceedings. Respondents will be given the right to be present when applicants make arguments.

Flexibility will be maintained in legal processes at family courts. Only after the failure of mediation, in which ordinary citizens take part, will family courts make a decision at their discretion while also taking into consideration the arguments of both applicants and respondents in an effort to reach a settlement that is acceptable to both parties. If the parties are not satisfied with the decision, a lawsuit will be filed.

Even in the absence a request for a family court decision at its discretion, the court will be empowered to freeze bank accounts and the sale of real estate property so that parties concerned do not find themselves at a disadvantage, especially in divorce cases.

In divorce cases, each party will have the right to ask a family court to investigate the other party’s finances so that money and property can be fairly divided. The party who has been granted child custody will be able to take custody sooner than currently is the case.

But the new system for handling family affairs cases is not free of problems. For example, how to ensure the payment of spousal support remains an outstanding issue. Discussions on how to ensure that mediation results and family court decisions are faithfully implemented must continue.

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