JAPAN - Only a little more than half of divorced couples with minor children have reached agreements on such matters as visitation by the noncustodial parent and how the parents will share the costs of child rearing, a survey by the Justice Ministry has found.
The survey covers divorce cases over one year from April 2012, when the revised Civil Code was put into effect. The revised Article 766 of the Civil Code stipulates that these issues should be discussed and decided when a couple divorce, but the survey revealed that such practices are still not widespread.
Some experts argue that the support currently provided by the central and local governments is inadequate.
Ninety per cent of divorced couples in Japan are believed to separate by mutual consent, meaning most of them do not establish detailed terms for their split, unlike cases of arbitrated divorce.
This can create such problems as the noncustodial parent being unable to see a child and financial trouble involving child support.
The Civil Code was revised in order to protect children's rights, but divorce registration papers can be accepted even if those agreements are not made.
In tandem with the revision, the Justice Ministry has partially changed the format of the divorce papers, adding boxes that couples check to indicate whether they have "reached an agreement" or are "yet to reach an agreement" on visitation, other forms of contact and financial support regarding children.
According to the survey, divorce papers were submitted in 131,254 cases by couples with minor children in the year from April 2012. However, only 72,770 cases, or 55 per cent, had made arrangements regarding visits or other contact with children, and only 73,002 cases, or 56 per cent, had agreed on child support.
The ministry has said adding the check boxes informs divorcing couples they need to make agreements, but it will further publicize the need. However, the ministry has said many couples would be prevented from divorcing if it required such agreements as a condition for submitting divorce papers.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry launched a system last fiscal year to partially subsidize local governments that help noncustodial parents meet and otherwise contact their children. But Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture were the only local governments utilizing the new system as of this month. The Tokyo metropolitan government, for example, provides a staffer to bring a child to a noncustodial parent and attend the visit.
"The idea of making agreements has not fully spread because it is difficult to know exactly what they should agree on," said Prof. Masayuki Tanamura of Waseda University, a civil law expert. "The central and local governments need to demonstrate examples, or implement such measures as holding free advice seminars. They should agressively implement such measures by training expert staff."