Japan passes revised law allowing divorced parents to have joint custody of their children for the first time

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's parliament on Friday approved an amendment to the country's civil code that gives divorced parents the option of joint custody of children. The country joins many other countries.

The overhaul, the first to child custody in nearly 80 years, is expected to take effect by 2026. It will allow divorced parents to choose between dual or sole custody, while requiring them to help ensure the rights and well-being of their children.

Under current law, custody of children is only granted to one divorced parent, almost always the mother.

The change comes as the number of divorces increases in Japan and more divorced fathers hope to stay in touch with their children. A series of high-profile accusations from divorced foreign fathers blaming their former partners for kidnapping their children and returning them to Japan also encouraged change.

The new regulation stipulates that the parent who is not the primary custodian must contribute to the costs of raising children. Currently, most divorced mothers, who are often part-time workers with low incomes, do not receive financial support from their former husbands.

In cases where there is suspicion of domestic violence or abuse by one of the parents, the other parent should be given sole custody, the amendment to the law states.

Proponents of joint custody say it allows both divorced parents to play a role in raising children. Opponents, including human rights groups and some victims of domestic violence, have raised concerns that the new system could make it harder for parents to cut ties with abusive spouses and may not give them a real say in custody decisions.

The concerns led to some changes to the legislation during the parliamentary debate to require authorities to ensure that the custody decision was not one-sided.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that the changes address the concerns of domestic violence victims and their families. But the improvements don't go far enough and the risk to vulnerable family members remains high, said Kazuko Ito, a lawyer pushing against the changes.

According to the revision, divorced parents who choose joint custody must reach consensus on their children's education, long-term medical treatment and other important issues and must seek a decision from the family court if agreement cannot be reached.

Each parent can decide on their children's daily activities, such as private lessons and meals or emergency treatment.

The revision should be reviewed five years after it comes into force.

Comments are closed.