Japan Lawmakers Remain Cautions over Introduction of Joint Custody; Multi-Party Discussions Take Place in Diet

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Members attend a meeting of a subcommittee of the Legislative Council in Tokyo on Jan. 30.

Some lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition parties remain cautious about introducing a joint custody system that allows divorced parents to share responsibility for their children, fearing that it could create an environment in which abuse and domestic violence continues to be a problem.

The government intends to submit a bill to revise the Civil Code to the current Diet session, so dispelling concerns among lawmakers will be key to its enactment.

Currently, only provisions for sole custody are stipulated, in which only one of the divorced parents is given parental authority. This has led to criticism that parents who do not have parental responsibility are unable to be involved in raising their children.

The Legislative Council on Feb. 15 submitted a draft outline for revising the Civil Code to Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi. The outline would allow divorced parents to enter a joint custody arrangement if they agree through discussion. If they cannot agree, the family courts will decide whether to grant joint or sole custody.

The council also adopted a supplementary resolution stating that joint custody will not be granted in situations that would harm the interests of a child, such as in cases of abuse and domestic violence. It also calls for appropriate hearings in family courts.

If enacted, the revised Civil Code will come into effect within two years following its promulgation.

Although there is a suprapartisan group of Diet members that promotes joint custody, opinions are divided among lawmakers regardless of their parties. Some remain cautious about introducing the system over the risk that an abuser may use custody as an excuse to continue harassing or harmful behavior, even in cases where parents divorce due to child abuse or domestic violence.

Another multi-party group was established on Feb. 9 to study how parental authority should be defined. The group was founded by former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, a Liberal Democratic Party member, and Tetsuro Fukuyama, a former secretary general of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

At its first meeting held in the Diet, participants exchanged opinions on a series of issues likely to arise after the introduction of joint custody.

“Cool-headed discussions are necessary to serve the interests of the child,” said Noda.

After a preliminary draft outline for the Civil Code revision was released in December, victims of domestic violence and others submitted a petition with about 16,000 signatures to Koizumi, calling for careful discussion of the matter. The move highlights the difficulty in gaining the understanding of the public over the joint custody issue. Some have questioned whether family courts would be able to properly understand what is happening in a domestic environment behind closed doors.

Although the bill to revise the Civil Code was approved at the LDP’s General Council meeting on Friday, Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama said at a press conference that it received “requests for examining measures regarding the operation of family courts.”

The Diet deliberations will likely discuss measures to prevent damage upon introducing joint custody, as well as strengthening family court operations and clarifying the criteria for determining custody.