Upper House Begins Deliberations on Joint Custody; Looking to Clarify Family Court Role, Decision-making Process

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

The House of Councillors’ Judicial Affairs Committee began deliberations on Thursday for a bill for Civil Code revision centered on a proposal for the introduction of a joint custody system in which both parents have legal custody of their child or children after divorce.

Opposition parties call for clarifying criteria for a family court to determine whether joint or sole custody should be granted and specifying the range of circumstances in which one parent will be allowed to exercise independent parental rights, among other demands.

Under the current Civil Code, parental custody is granted to only one of the parents after divorce. The bill revises the current system to allow divorced parents to choose joint custody if they agree to do so.

If the bill is passed into law during the current Diet session, the new system will be implemented by fiscal 2026, allowing couples divorced before the implementation to switch to joint custody by filing a request with a family court.

“We will review the current provision to ensure the interests of the child, considering circumstances such as the increasingly diverse ways of raising children,” Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi said.

Opposition parties especially see the proposed criteria for the family court to choose sole custody as problematic.

According to the bill, if parents fail to reach an agreement on custody of their child or children after divorce, a family court will determine custody arrangements. The bill also stipulates that, if there is a risk of domestic violence or child abuse, the court must choose sole custody.

During Thursday’s deliberations, there were many questions about how the risk of domestic violence or child abuse would be recognized.

Hiroe Makiyama, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, pointed out that the family court does not always make appropriate decisions, given that it is often difficult to find evidence of harm received behind closed doors.

“Various circumstances should be considered, regardless of whether objective evidence is present or not,” Koizumi said.

Regarding the information provided by public institutions from which suspected victims of abuse sought help, “Such information will be taken into account as an important element to determine the facts,” Koizumi said.