Japanese lower house approves law on joint custody of children

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Diet Building in Chiyoda District, Tokyo, Japan.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) – Japan's House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at introducing a system in the country that would allow divorced parents to share custody of their children.

At a plenary session of the lower chamber of the Diet, the country's parliament, the bill to revise the Civil Code was approved with a majority vote and support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner Komeito, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai ( Japanese Innovation Party).

After deliberations in the House of Councilors, the upper chamber, the bill is expected to be passed during the current regular state session, which ends on June 23.

The bill stipulates that divorced parents can choose between joint or sole custody after discussions. This will revise the current Civil Code, which only grants custody to one parent after a divorce. If everything goes as expected, the shared custody system will be implemented in Japan by 2026.

If parents cannot agree on custody of their children after the divorce, a family court will decide taking the children's interests into account. The court decides on sole custody if there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse.

The bill includes a supplementary provision, adopted last week during discussions in the House of Commons Justice Committee, requiring that measures be considered before the law comes into force to confirm the true intentions of both parents regarding the choice of joint custody.

The provision was created at the request of the CDP, which pointed out the risk that one parent would be forced by the other parent to take part due to domestic violence or other situations in which the parents are unable to have discussions on an equal level decide joint custody.

As part of joint custody, decisions about the child require the consent of both parents. Exceptionally, a parent may only decide on “daily activities” such as providing meals and choosing extracurricular classes.

A parent will also be allowed to exercise independent parental rights in “urgent circumstances,” such as escaping domestic violence or receiving emergency medical treatment.

The bill provides for the creation of a new legal system obliging the separated parent from the child to pay a certain amount of maintenance after the divorce, even if no agreement on this payment was reached between the parents at the time of the divorce.

In cases where the separated parent fails to pay child support, the bill would give the cohabiting parent a special privilege over other creditors to effect a garnishment.

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