Japan Lower House OKs Joint Child Custody Bill

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Diet Building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, Japan.

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—Japan’s House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at introducing in the country a system that allows divorced parents to share custody of their children.

At a plenary session of the lower chamber of the Diet, the country’s parliament, the bill to revise the Civil Code was approved by a majority vote with support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner Komeito, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

Following deliberations in the House of Councillors, the upper chamber, the bill is seen to be enacted during the ongoing regular Diet session ending on June 23.

The bill would allow divorced parents to choose between joint or sole custody after holding discussions, revising the current Civil Code which grants parental custody to only one of the parents after divorce. If all goes as expected, the joint custody system will be introduced in Japan by 2026.

If parents cannot reach an agreement on custody for their children after divorce, a family court will make a decision based on the children’s interests.. The court will choose sole custody if there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse.

The bill includes a supplementary provision, adopted during last week’s discussions at the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee, that calls for measures to be considered, before the law comes into force, to confirm the true intentions of both parents regarding the choice of joint custody.

The provision was established at the request of the CDP, which pointed out the risk of one parent being forced into choosing joint custody by the other parent due to domestic violence or other situations in which the parents are unable to hold discussions on an equal footing.

Under the joint custody system, decisions regarding the child will require the agreement of both parents. As an exception, one parent will be allowed to make decisions solely on “daily activities” such as providing meals and selecting after-school lessons.

One parent will also be allowed to exercise independent parental rights in “urgent circumstances” such as escaping from domestic violence or receiving emergency medical treatment.

The bill includes the creation of a new legal system to oblige the parent living separately from the child after divorce to pay a certain amount of child support, even if no agreement on such payment was reached between the parents at the time of divorce.

In cases of failure to pay child support by the separated parent, the bill would give the parent living with the child a special privilege over other creditors to conduct a seizure.