Japan Passes Ground-Breaking Law Allowing Joint Child Custody for Divorced Parents

Japan’s parliament has passed a bill that allows for joint child custody in cases of divorce, a move that brings the country in line with many other nations. Previously, custody was granted to only one parent – almost always the mother – but the change will allow divorced partners to choose either dual or single custody while mandating cooperation in ensuring their children’s well-being. The law is set to take effect by 2026. Concerns have been raised that the new system could make it harder for victims of domestic violence to cut ties with abusive spouses, and some rights groups have said they may not be given a say in custody decisions.

The revision requires the sharing of child care costs by the parent who is not the main custodian. At present, most divorced mothers – often part-time workers with low incomes – do not receive financial support from ex-husbands. Parents who choose joint custody will need to reach a consensus about their children’s long-term medical treatment, education and other major issues, and will need to apply to a family court if they cannot reach an agreement. Both parents will have the right to make decisions about their children’s daily activities, such as private lessons and meals, and emergency treatment.

Supporters of joint custody say that it allows both divorced parents to have an input into child rearing. A number of high-profile allegations have been made by divorced foreign fathers claiming that their former partners abducted their children and took them back to Japan. As the number of divorces increase in Japan, more fathers hope to remain connected to their children, which contributed to the decision to alter the law.

Opponents of the reforms have criticised the changes, saying they do not go far enough to protect vulnerable family members. Lawyer Kazuko Ito, who has campaigned against the revision, said that the risk remains high for people suffering from domestic violence and their families. During parliamentary debate, some modifications were made to the legislation to ensure that custody decisions were not one-sided.

The revision is to be reviewed five years after it takes effect. Today’s change to the civil code is the first relating to custody rights in Japan for almost eighty years


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