Introduction of Joint Custody: Put Top Priority on Securing the Interests of Children

Even if a couple divorces and dissolves their marital relationship, they continue to be parents. A system and environment must be established to ensure that the interests of children are not compromised.

The government is expected to submit a bill to revise the Civil Code during the current Diet session in order to introduce a joint custody system, in which parents will share parental authority even after a divorce.

The current Civil Code requires sole custody, in which only one of the divorcees is given parental authority. For that reason, the code has been criticized for preventing parents who do not have custody from being involved in child-rearing.

Under the new system, this will be revised so that when parents divorce, they will decide through dialogue whether to choose joint custody or sole custody.

Parental authority is the right and obligation of parents to care for, educate and manage the assets of their children. It is only natural that both parents should face and fulfill their responsibilities for child-rearing.

In 2022, 179,000 couples got divorced in Japan. Half of these couples had children who were minors. If these children were to have continued contact with both their separated parents and grow up feeling loved by both of them, the effects would be significant.

However, there are not a few issues that need to be addressed before a shift to the new system.

Some divorces are caused by domestic violence or abuse by one partner. A situation must be avoided in which people use custody to maintain access to the children and continue to cause them harm.

In addition, if parents are increasingly at odds with each other over their children’s lives or their educational and career paths, this can have a negative impact on the children.

In such cases, the family court will decide what to do about custody. Family circumstances vary widely, and it may not be easy for judges to discern what the ideal relationship between parents and children should be.

Many cases are expected to be brought to the family court. The system for accepting cases should be expanded and adequate preparations made.

A new system will be introduced for child support as well.

Currently, many divorces occur without an agreement on child support. According to a central government survey, 60% of single-mother families have never received any child support.

Therefore, a system will be established to allow people to demand child support even if there is no agreement at the time of divorce. If payment is delayed, wages and other assets of the other party will be seized so that child support can be paid.

With regard to visitations, in which parents who live apart from their children meet their children regularly, grandparents and others will also be able to petition for such contact. It is vital to steadily implement these measures.

It is unreasonable for children to be put at a disadvantage due to emotional conflict between divorced couples. It is imperative to make it well-known that the systems for custody, child support and visitations exist for the sake of the children.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2024)