Hi Blog. Terrie’s Take offers a good summary of the issues pertaining to the growing body of information regarding divorce in Japan and the horrible aftermath, particularly when it comes to international relationships. And he too forecasts an uptick in the divorce rate come April–when pension scheme reforms come into place. Thanks to Scott W. for forwarding this. Debito in Sapporo
TERRIE’S TAKE TT-411 — divorce surge
By Terrie Lloyd. General Edition Sunday, March 4, 2007 Issue No. 411
It’s been a while since we wrote about divorce in Japan. However, an article
in the Daily Yomiuri several weeks back reminded us that this is one big
black hole in Japan and the law has not caught up with the changing social
realities. The article was the so-called “Troubleshooter” column, in which a
woman says that her 11-year old daughter is reluctant to see her divorced
Dad. The woman said that she was concerned that if the child didn’t see her
father (he wants to see her — unusual for a Japanese divorcee), she was
worried that he might be inclined to stop paying child maintenance.
To our surprise, the responding lawyer, a Ms. Doi, told the woman that she
needn’t worry. She said that even if the Dad couldn’t see his kid, he’d
still have to pay the child maintenance and education costs. Does she really
think he can be made to pay? Also, her comment that the child doesn’t need
to see her Dad if “she has started to become emotionally unstable because of
the burden [of seeing him]” reveals one of the major reasons why he probably
never will pay. Because he’s been marginalized.
Let’s look at some of the real-life issues involved in
divorce in Japan when it involves kids.
1. The lawyer, Ms. Doi, is being naiive in thinking the
husband can be made to continue paying child maintenance. According to some
statistics we’ve seen, only 20% of Japanese divorced Dads actually pay
maintenance. One reason for such a low rate of court compliance is that
Japan has no concept of shared custody, and so there is no sense for the
father of sharing responsibility for his off-spring. Indeed, the prevailing
view by lawyers and counsellors is that it is emotionally damaging for
children to see a divorced parent, since it makes them confused and upset.
Talk about a diametrically opposed view to the joint custody approach of
most other nations!
2. Another big reason why Dads don’t pay is that the Family
Law Courts are toothless and have no power to enforce
civil judgements, other than to allow the spouse to try to attach assets or
salary. But she has to find the Dad first, and neither the court nor the
police will help in this process. The simple fact of the matter is that a
determined Dad can easily shift cities and jobs, and his salary stays
intact. Alternatively, he can form a company with one other shareholder and
place the assets in that company, preventing her from attaching them since
they are no longer just his.
3. A third reason why Dads cut themselves off is “PAS”: Parental Alienation
Syndrome — something which is totally unknown here in Japan. Perhaps this
isn’t surprising, since PAS is only just starting to gain acceptance in the
USA and elsewhere. In the theory behind PAS, a child instinctivly latches on
to its caregiver and if it senses that the caregiver hates the divorced
parent, then the child will take on the same values even if he/she really
loves that parent deep down. We note that this is very similar to the
Stockholm Syndrome experienced by kidnap victims.
The problem of getting deadbeat Dads to pay up is not
unique to Japan. But in considering just why there are so
many deadbeats in this country, it is clear that the legal system offers no
opportunity for Dads to experience an on-going emotional bond and thus
support his children — kids who unfortunately have been encouraged to hate
his guts anyway. Shared custody, with guaranteed access by both parents
would go a long way to solving the problem of emotional detachment and
subsequent non-payment. But then that requires some social re-engineering —
something we probably won’t see in our lifetime.
The divorce rate in Japan is quite high, at about 40% of
the number of marriages. The peak for divorce was 290,000 people in 2002.
However, this dropped to 260,000 in 2005 and 235,000 in 2006 (annualized
figure drawn from Nov 2006 stats). Despite what you may think, the reason
for the falling divorce rate isn’t an improvement in marital relations nor
an improved economy. Rather, it’s due to a new divorce law which comes into
effect in April this year and which allows women to claim up to 50% of their
husband’s pension in the event of a split.
Until now, older women getting divorced have only been able
to get a share of the pension if the hubby approved. If he didn’t, as has
often been the case, then the best she could expect was a much smaller
hardship pension. The divorce statistics imply that there is a huge number
of stored up divorces waiting to be registered after April — potentially as
many as 55,000 more than normal. It should be interesting to see the effects
of both this surge AND the one that will inevitably come from the mass
retirement of the Dankai Sedai (Baby boomers) generation over the next 5
Then of course there is the thorny issue of legal child abduction by
Japanese escaping an international marriage. While the domestic media focus
on the abduction of Japanese nationals to North Korea, they make little
noise about the many abductions of kids of international marriages by
fleeing Japanese spouses. There are numerous documented cases, so numerous
in fact that some countries such as the USA consider Japan the second worst
haven for international child abduction.
The problem is that Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention in
respect to the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, although it
has adopted some of the other Hague Convention laws. Clearly this has been a
conscious choice by the government and our guess is that it is probably an
effort by the judiciary and political conservatives to maintain the current
status quo on societal attitudes and family law.
If you’d like to know more about the ugly side of
international divorce, especially where kids are involved, check out the
Child Rights Network at http://www.crnjapan.com/en/. If you’re wondering why
the focus seems to be on fathers at that page, it’s most likely because a
foreign father is the party least likely to be allowed to keep seeing the
children of a divorced marriage. Yes, there have been cases of foreign
mothers being separated from their kids, but these are much rarer…