Lawsuits Filed in Japan to Overturn Dual Surname Ban

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo District Court in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Twelve plaintiffs Friday filed lawsuits in Japan against laws that prohibit different surnames for married couples.

The plaintiffs demand court confirmation that both of a couple can legally maintain their premarital surnames after marriage, claiming that provisions against different surnames for married couples in the Civil Code and the family register law are unconstitutional.

The lawsuits were filed by the plaintiffs from Tokyo, Hokkaido and Nagano Prefecture with Tokyo District Court and Sapporo District Court in Hokkaido.

Allowing different surnames for married couples is “a system that is necessary so that everyone can get married happily,” said Megumi Ueda, one of the plaintiffs.

Ueda, 46, said she had decided not to change her surname upon marriage. “My name is myself,” said Ueda, who lives in Tokyo.

Ueda, whose job involves a lot of work abroad, chose de facto marriage partly because of concern that she might have difficulty explaining her degrees earned in Britain and France if her surname were different from that on the degrees.

Ueda could have asked her partner to adopt her surname to legally marry. “I didn’t want my partner to undergo what I feel uncomfortable with,” she said.

In Japan, de facto marriage has disadvantages.

It was not easy for the couple to take out a housing loan. Tax deductions for spouses will not be available even if one of them loses a job and becomes a dependent.

For inheritance, de facto couples are also at disadvantage compared with legally married ones.

Some of Ueda’s female colleagues use their premarital surnames for work, but using a name different from the one on the family register often complicates paperwork abroad, according to Ueda.

Ueda views as problematic the current system in which either of a couple needs to change the surname to marry.

In recent years, the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, or Keizai Doyukai, are calling for legalizing dual surnames for married couples.

“We are getting a tailwind from growing support. We will fight so that courts will understand us,” Ueda said.