updated 5 Feb 2012, 14:43
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Tue, Jan 10, 2012
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network
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Kids, parents hurt by custody enforcement

"I'll never forgive [the court] for treating my children like objects," a man in his 40s said angrily, recalling when he was suddenly ordered by a court to hand over a young daughter and son living with him to his estranged wife.

Although the children wanted to stay with him, court enforcement officers forcibly took them away. The man briefly resisted, but had no choice but to give up the children.

A Supreme Court survey has disclosed for the first time that the use of legal force in custody cases involving divorced or divorcing parents, called direct enforcement, occurs once every three days.

The process is thought to emotionally scar both children and parents involved.

In 2009, when the couple were in divorce proceedings, the man was ordered by a court to hand over a 5-year-old daughter and a primary school-age son to the wife.

In the previous year, the man left the couple's house with the children without the wife's consent, and they had lived together ever since.

The court determined that the case constituted "abduction."

In compliance with a court order, the man returned the children to their mother.

But the next night, the children, in pajamas, came back to him. The son said to him, "I want to stay with you, Papa." The man then asked the court to suspend the order. Two weeks later, he was told the order would be suspended if he paid a 1 million yen deposit to the court.

However, when he took the daughter to the nursery school before he could make the payment, three court enforcement officers were waiting for them. They were dispatched to execute the order for transfer of custody.

"I'll get a written statement from the court suspending the order, so please wait," the man said. But the officers ignored his plea. When he held the daughter and attempted to leave, the officers stopped him.

Around the same time, court enforcement officers forcibly took his son away from his primary school in a similar way. The children were sent to the house of the wife's parents in eastern Japan by car.

"[They] took away my children although they didn't want to go. Thinking of it makes my blood boil," the man said.

In November 2003, a woman who lives in the Kanto region was asked by the father of her ex-husband to let him meet his granddaughters, aged 6 and 4, because he wanted to have a special dinner with them to celebrate Shichigosan, a children's festival.

Although the woman and her husband were in the middle of divorce proceedings, she allowed her daughters to visit their grandfather.

However, the dinner was apparently just a ruse to get the children away from their mother, and they were taken to their grandparents' house in the Kansai region.

The woman contacted a lawyer to seek a court order for the children's return.

After the order was granted, she went to a park in the Kansai region where her ex-parents-in-law had promised to bring her daughters, accompanied by an enforcement officer.

The woman hugged her elder daughter, who ran to her in the park. However, the mother opened her arms when her ex-mother-in-law suddenly shouted, and her daughters ran to their grandparents, who left with them.

A lawyer who had accompanied the woman said, "I think we need the direct enforcement system to prevent parents from unfairly taking children."

But a former male enforcement officer, 66, who worked at the Tokyo District Court and handled at least 10 cases in which children were forcibly handed over since 2005, said, "I'm worried children may be traumatized by the process."

The officer said he witnessed a mother get into a taxi with her 5-year-old daughter after the daughter had been handed over, when the father of the daughter tried to block the taxi by lying over its hood. Police officers rushed to the scene.

In another case, when a 7-year-old boy who had been living with his paternal grandparents was about to be handed over to his mother, the boy's grandmother shouted, "Kidnapper!" and barricaded herself with the boy in a nearby building, successfully thwarting enforcement of the custody transfer.

The former enforcement officer said: "It's unreasonable to treat children like objects. I think it's necessary to stipulate by law the cases in which [direct] enforcement is allowed."

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