Joint Custody in Japan

Many parents and divorce lawyers in Japan are celebrating a change in international child custody laws after the Japanese parliament passed a bill to introduce the concept of joint child custody for divorcing couples in Japan.

Joint Custody Japan

A Glow in Tokyo

In the first law change regarding parenting in 77 years, Japan’s Civil Code will permit divorced parents to choose either sole custody or joint custody. The bill marks a significant shifting in attitudes about gender roles and family in Japan. In Japan, women remain the primary caregivers in most households.

The change in joint custody law comes as the relationships in families across Japan diversify. There has been a rise in married couples divorcing, and increasingly both parents now want to play a role in raising children. Under the current system in Japan, foreign citizens who want to maintain ties with their children found it challenging if one of the parents relocated to Japan.

Florida Joint Custody

I have written about joint custody issues before. Child custody in Florida is broken down into two distinct components: parental responsibility (which is decision-making) and timesharing (physical custody and visitation rights). Both components must be incorporated into a “parenting plan.”

Florida historically did not have a presumption in favor of any specific timesharing schedule. In establishing timesharing, the court always considered the best interests of the child and evaluated all factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the family.

Since 2023, the Florida Legislature added a rebuttable presumption to the law that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child. To rebut this presumption, a party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal timesharing is not in the best interests of the minor child.

Know Before You Go to Kyoto

Under Japan’s revised Civil Code, parents will determine between themselves whether to opt for sole or joint custody. When there is a dispute, a family court judge will have to decide on the appropriate custody arrangements. In cases where domestic violence and abuse by one of the parents is suspected, the other parent will have sole custody.

Supporters of joint custody argue the new law allows both parents to take part in child-rearing, after a divorce. However, victims of domestic violence have voiced concern that a joint custody system could hinder them from severing ties with their abusers as it would maintain connections to their former spouses.

Some also fear such victims may not be able to negotiate single custody or joint custody on an equal footing. To address concerns, the bill was modified during parliamentary deliberations to add a clause that calls for considering measures to “confirm the true intention” of each parent, but critics argue the government measures to protect domestic violence victims are too vague.

Under joint custody, consensus between parents is not required in making decisions on day-to-day matters, such as what to feed children and whether to vaccinate them. Parents must reach consensus on important matters such as education and long-term medical treatment, but if they cannot do so in time in an urgent situation, one of the parents can decide on their own.

To avoid ambiguity in what would constitute an urgent situation, the government plans to provide clear examples. The revision also includes measures against unpaid child support that will oblige a parent to provide minimum payments even if no agreement is reached upon divorce.

Japan had been the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nation with no joint custody system, causing it to receive criticism in parental abduction cases. In cases involving Japanese spouses who took children away from foreign partners after the failure of marriages, foreign parents had difficulty seeing their children in Japan.

In 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Japan to improve its child custody rules, under which European parents in Japan have little recourse in the event of domestic child abduction by a Japanese spouse.

The Kyodo News article is here.