Japan legalizes joint custody

Japan legalizes joint custody

“Divorced couples in Japan will for the first time be able to negotiate joint custody of their children after parliament voted this week for changes to laws permitting only sole custody,” reports The Guardian. No longer will one parent automatically get sole custody of the children. If parents fail to reach agreement, courts will also be allowed to award the parents joint custody — or to grant sole custody to one parent, if the court thinks that is better for the children than joint custody.

“Under Japan’s civil code, couples must decide which parent will take custody of their children when their marriage ends – a requirement that critics say causes children psychological harm and prevents the ‘left-behind’ parent from playing a fuller role in their upbringing,” The Guardian says.

The legislation was sponsored by the ruling Liberal Democratic party, but was also supported by the largest opposition parties, such as the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party. It will bring Japan – the only G7 member that does not allow joint custody – into line with many other industrialized nations.

Backers of the status quo have argued that joint custody could expose children to abuse in cases where the mother has been subjected to domestic violence (in Japan, mothers get sole custody of the children 90% of the time after a divorce).

“In response, the bill’s sponsors have said custody will continue to be granted to one parent if the other is suspected of abuse,” says The Guardian.

On Tuesday, the lower house of Japan’s parliament passed the legislation allowing joint custody. The less powerful upper house is expected to pass it soon.

“Even after divorce, it is important for both mothers and fathers to remain appropriately involved in, and responsible for, bringing up their children,” said Japan’s justice minister.

The legislation – the first change to Japanese child custody laws since the 1950s – would go into effect from 2026, and apparently would also apply retroactively to couples who had already divorced. As The Guardian reports,

The sole custody system has drawn criticism from divorced parents, including foreign nationals who struggle to maintain relationships with their children if their former partner takes them back to Japan, sometimes denying their former spouse any parental contact.

The change reflects the changing nature of families in Japan, which continues to resist calls to allow married couples to use separate surnames – a move conservative lawmakers see as an attack on traditional values.

About 200,000 children are affected by divorce every year – double the number 50 years ago, despite the plummeting birth rate. A 2021 government survey found that one in three children with divorced parents said they eventually lost contact with the non-custodial parent.

If parents are unable to agree on custody arrangements, family courts will have the power to decide based on what they conclude is the child’s interests, reports the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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