COMMENTARY: Japanese court ruling does harm to alienated parents

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Parental alienation has become a "buzz term" in family law circles.

People are quick to toss around the term, which can diminish the seriousness of the event when it actually does occur. It is not always easy to prove, and there are questions as to what rises to the level of parental alienation, or if it even exists.

Parental alienation can be loosely described as occurring when one parent's actions harm the relationship between the child or children and the other parent. Parental Alienation Syndrome examines the consequences that the actions have on the child, and is defined by the American Psychological Association as "a child's experience of being manipulated by one parent to turn against the other (targeted) parent and resist contact with him or her."

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized parental alienation as a health condition. It is termed "Caregiver-child relationship problem," and described as "[s]ubstantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance in functioning."

In Japan, parents who have been alienated from their children were recently dealt a crushing blow to their cases, as a Japanese court ruled that the country is not at fault if separated parents, who have visitation rights, are unable to see their children. Fourteen parents, only one of whom was not Japanese, sued the Japanese government for failure to offer a legal remedy that ensures visitation with their children.

While Japan is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, it does not have a joint custody system in cases of divorce. The Tokyo District Court ruled that while the treaty was an agreement which respected the rights of parents, it was not binding.

Online news articles describe the plight of Tommaso Perina, the non-Japanese plaintiff in the lawsuit. Perina is still married, and has a nominal two hours of visitation per month with his 6- and 4-year-old children. However, he hasn't seen them in more than 2 years as his wife fled Tokyo, taking the children with her to a different location in Japan. His parental rights are fully intact, and his requests for help from high-ranking Japanese government officials have led nowhere.

There's not much point to an order that can't, or won't, be enforced. There is a huge risk of long-term psychological impact on a child who is essentially banned from seeing one parent. Of course, there are always situations where this is for the benefit of the child, such as legitimate safety issues, or abuse and neglect concerns. Sadly, this ruling implies consent to the deterioration of the parent-child bond.

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Marie E. Matyjaszek is an attorney referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.

Published: Fri, Jan 24, 2020