Discussions on Joint Custody Begin in Japan’s Lower House; Justice Minister Intends to Enact Bill During Current Diet Session

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi

Deliberations on a bill to revise the Civil Code and other laws on child custody began Thursday at a plenary session of the House of Representatives.

The revision is aimed at introducing a joint custody system allowing divorced parents to share responsibility for their children.

“[The bill] is based on the principle that it is in the child’s best interest that parents remain appropriately involved in their upbringing and share the responsibility, even after a divorce,” said Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi.

He emphasized his intention to have the bill enacted during the current Diet session.

Currently, the Civil Code states only provisions for sole custody, in which only one parent is given parental authority after a divorce. The revision would allow divorced parents to enter a joint custody arrangement if they come to an agreement. If they cannot agree, a family court will decide whether to grant joint or sole custody.

It will be the first time in 77 years that a family law system regarding custody after a divorce will be revised. If the bill is enacted during the current Diet session, it is expected to go into effect by fiscal 2026.

However, lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties have voiced concerns regarding joint custody, saying that it could create a situation in which abuse or domestic violence continues after the parents are divorced.

“In cases in which there are concerns regarding abuse or domestic violence, a family court must always grant sole custody,” said Koizumi, trying to eliminate such concerns.

Koizumi also said that a family court will not only consider physical abuse but also emotional abuse.

Another issue is whether a family court can understand complicated family situations and make an appropriate decision on custody. There are also concerns that if material evidence is not presented proving that the children are abused, joint custody could be applied against their wishes.

“Proof is not an indispensable requirement,” Koizumi said.

He said he intends to increase support to strengthen the family court system.