Japanese ministry asking local governments to encourage meetings between divorced parents and their children

May 10, 2012

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120509005259.htm

 

Divorced parents lack ways to meet kids / Ministry has asked local govts to help out, but so far only Tokyo has taken active steps

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The welfare ministry has asked local governments to encourage meetings between divorced parents and their children by arranging and overseeing such encounters, but little progress has been made.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started a project this fiscal year to increase opportunities for parents to meet their children after a divorce by encouraging prefectural governments and those of 20 ordinance-designated major cities nationwide to help out.

But among them, only the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to begin to offer relevant services by the end of this fiscal year. The other 66 local governments will do so later, or have no plans.

Though the local governments admitted the project is necessary, they said the services cannot be provided because they have no officials with know-how about such meeting arrangements.

Thus it is an urgent task to train personnel who can implement the services.

Experts have said that meeting with parents after they get divorced is important for the children’s growth.

But in many cases, meetings by those directly involved are difficult to hold because of emotional conflicts.

According to the Supreme Court, applications for parent-child meetings in 2010 numbered 7,749, an about 3.2-fold jump from 10 years ago.

There have been many cases in which parents who have been refused permission to meet their children have taken matters into their own hands and absconded with them.

Private organizations offering to arrange and oversee such meetings do exist, but there are too few of them to meet nationwide demand. Consequently, only a limited number of people can use the services of such organizations.

A man in his 30s living in Hiroshima Prefecture apart from his wife and child while the couple’s divorce proceedings are under way said, “As my trusting relationship with my wife has been lost, I can’t even directly contact her.”

He said an arbitration service by a nonprofit organization cost 18,000 yen for two hours. He said, “Public assistance is necessary.”

In response to such opinions, starting in this fiscal year, the ministry decided to subsidize part of the costs if local governments of prefectures, major cities and regional core cities implement their own parent-child meeting services.

The public services cover low-income earners with children under 15, and the services are free of charge.

The idea is for officials of the local governments or other public entities to coordinate times and places for the meetings and also accompany the persons involved.

Since autumn last year, the ministry has asked the local governments to proactively implement the services.

However, in a survey conducted in April by The Yomiuri Shimbun on prefectural and major city governments, only the Tokyo metropolitan government replied it planned to introduce the service within this fiscal year.

Forty-six of the local governments, or 69 percent, said they were still considering whether to introduce the service. Twenty, or 30 percent, replied that they had no plans to do so.

On why such a service had not yet been introduced, a question for which multiple responses were permitted, 32 of the governments, or 48 percent, said they do not have officials or outside experts with expertise about such meetings, and 21 of them, or 32 percent, said they could not secure budgets for the purpose.

Most of the surveyed local governments admitted the project is necessary. But the Kochi prefectural government said the project means that public entities will get involved in the participants’ private affairs and thus careful consideration is necessary.

The Fukuoka prefectural government said that local governments alone have a limit on what can be done because difficult adjustments will be necessary in some cases, and it will be necessary to establish a system in which local governments will closely cooperate with lawyers, family courts and other experts.

A ministry official said, “We’ll take the opinions into consideration so that more local governments will implement the project.”

Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura, an expert on family law, said: “Maintaining interactions between parents and children after a divorce is important for the children’s growth. As there are many parents who say they can allow children to meet divorced spouses with third-party oversight, the project is significant.

“Because this is the first attempt of its kind, the local governments seem to be reluctant due to fear of possible trouble. But it’s useful even just to coordinate meeting schedules or contact parents on behalf of the other spouses. It’s necessary to actively provide the services,” he said.

(May. 10, 2012)

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