Introduction of Joint Custody: Take Thorough Measures to Publicize, Prepare System

The long-standing conventional practice of giving just one parent custody of the children after a divorce is about to change. It is essential for the government to take all possible measures to prepare for this change so as not to cause confusion in society.

The introduction of joint custody, allowing both parents to share custody of their children after a divorce, is a major feature of a bill to revise the Civil Code and other legislation that has been passed at the Diet. The current rule of sole custody will be reviewed for the first time in 77 years. Parents will be allowed to choose joint custody if they agree. The revised legislation will take effect by fiscal 2026.

Even if parents are already divorced and one of them has sole custody, they will be able to change their arrangement to joint custody if they petition the family court and it is approved, according to the amendment.

Custody is the right and obligation of parents to care for, educate, and manage the property of their children. Under the existing system, there has been criticism that parents who do not have parental rights cannot be involved in child rearing.

If the introduction of joint custody allows both parents to take responsibility for child rearing and ensures the interests of the children, it will be significant.

Parents who choose joint custody will, in principle, decide matters concerning their children together. However, in cases of “normal activities in daily life,” such as a child’s private lessons, or “pressing circumstances,” such as emergency surgery, the decision can be made by only one parent.

However, the boundaries of the two categories are unclear. It is hoped that the government will make efforts to create easy-to-understand guidelines and make them well known to the public.

One concern is divorces associated with abuse and domestic violence. A situation must be avoided in which the perpetrators of domestic violence and other forms of abuse obtain parental rights that they can use to force contact with the victims.

When there is a fear of domestic violence or other abuse, the family court is supposed to choose sole custody. The role of the family court is important, but the judges and investigators of the family court have a large number of cases to handle. Under these circumstances, can they properly understand and judge complicated family situations?

It is essential for the court to expand its operational capacity in cooperation with psychologists and other experts who are familiar with parent-child relationships.

The revised legislation newly includes a “legal child support payment” system that allows people to demand that a separated parent pay child support. A provision was also established that allows the family court to encourage visitation between parents and children during its conciliation procedures.

In some foreign countries, child support payment and visitation rights are legally required at the time of divorce. In Japan, where divorces occur without such agreements, there is no end to problems such as nonpayment of child support and denial of access to the children. There is an urgent need to change this situation.

About 180,000 couples divorce each year in Japan, and nearly half of them have minor children. Even after the dissolution of a marriage, the parent-child relationship continues for the rest of the parties’ lives. It is important to create a system that puts the children’s happiness first.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 30, 2024)