Divorce Law Reform Would Allow Joint Custody in Japan; Justice Ministry Panel Also Eyes Visitation Rights

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Justice Ministry in Central Gov’t Bldg. No.6, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, 2021.

A subcommittee of the Justice Ministry’s advisory body has proposed giving parents the option of choosing joint parental rights in the event of divorce, it has been learned.

This contrasts with the current law that only allows sole custody rights, whereby one parent is designated as a child’s exclusive custodian at the time of divorce.

The Legislative Council’s Family Legislation Subcommittee compiled a draft Tuesday that includes the introduction of the joint custody system. Under the draft, the system can be exercised with the mutual agreement of both parents.

The council will make a formal decision at its general meeting in February and summit a report to Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi. In response, the ministry will submit a draft amendment to the Civil Code and other proposals to the current Diet session.

The draft states that if parents cannot agree on custody after divorce, a family court will decide whether to apply the joint or sole custody system. The joint custody system will not be applicable in cases when it is expected to “harm the interests of the child.”

Specifically, joint custody will not be an option if a parent is likely to harm their child physically or mentally, or if one parent would be subjected to mentally or physically harmful words or actions from the other parent. If such circumstances apply, the sole custody system will be used. This measure was proposed out of concern that harm might continue if joint custody were to be applied in the case of a divorce triggered by reasons such as abuse. The draft clarifies the criteria for the family court’s decision on whether to apply joint or sole custody system.

The draft also includes other post-divorce measures.

Currently, child support cannot be demanded without agreements between the parents, or a family court’s mediation or judgment. The draft establishes a “legal child support” system whereby a minimum amount of child support can be demanded even without an agreement. In the event of nonpayment, the delinquent parent’s money can be seized for child support, with preference over other claims.

With regard to visitation, in which the separated parent meets with the child on a regular basis, relatives in addition to the parents can file a petition for visitation rights under certain conditions.