If a parent, through court or other procedures, gains custody of a child or is awarded child-support payments from the other parent following a divorce, what happens if the other party refuses to comply with that decision?
A subcommittee of the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council, which was discussing a possible review of the civil execution law to eliminate such instances, recently drafted a report outlining its recommended amendments.
In a number of divorce cases, the legal rights of parents are never realized because the other parties ignore court decisions or conceal their assets.
The subcommittee’s draft contains largely adequate remedies to the problem.
To uncover concealed assets, the report included a prospective provision allowing courts to order financial institutions to disclose information on the deposits and savings of the deadbeat parent.
Concerning child-support payments and other amounts due, the report recommended that information on the workplace of the separated spouse be made eligible for a disclosure order.
Many parents have avoided paying child support by changing jobs, which is partly responsible for the poverty of fatherless and other families.
We hope the proposed new mechanism will function appropriately.
Another pillar of the recommended amendments is an explicit rule stating that parents who have taken children away following a divorce must return the children to former spouses who are designated by courts as the custody holder.
There is currently no special provision for handovers of children, so custody enforcement is subject to the same provisions that apply to general movable properties.
To avoid scaring or confusing the children, however, court execution officers can take a child into custody only under the presence of the “abducting” parent ahead of a subsequent handover to the custody-holding parent.
The process is therefore extremely difficult to enforce if the abducting parent refuses to cooperate. The council’s report turned the requirement around so that officials can carry out the court orders if only the custody-holding parent is available at the scene.
The law to implement the Hague Convention, which sets procedures for cross-border handovers of children, was also recommended for a review.
Japan signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction four years ago. The country, however, has come under fire internationally because court orders often end up unfulfilled in Japan.
A lack of respect for court decisions would undermine the foundation of society until it can no longer function. Development of an enforcement system is unavoidable.
Officials, however, should exercise as much caution as possible when dealing with children.
For example, it would be undesirable to forcibly take a child returning home from school just because the custody-holding parent is present.
The report, in fact, explicitly said that “care should be exercised to ensure that compulsory execution will not have a physically or mentally harmful effect on the child.”
The proposed amendments should go hand in hand with more extensive training for court execution officials and stronger ties with child-welfare experts.
Since custody rulings will become easier to enforce, all concerned parties should take note once again of the principle that the well-being of children should take precedence over everything else.