Parents Splitting Up in Japan Will Soon See Big Custody Shift

They'll be able to file for joint custody starting in 2026; previously, one parent was granted custody
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2024 10:20 AM CDT
Parents Splitting Up in Japan Will Soon See Big Custody Shift
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/RyanKing999)

Parents splitting up in Japan will soon be able to do what parents in many other developed nations already can: File for joint custody of the kids. On Friday, the country's parliament voted to make it so via an alteration to Japan's civil code, the first change to custody rights in almost eight decades, reports the AP. Currently, child custody is granted to one parent only (if the parents can't come to an agreement outside of court, per the BBC), and it's usually awarded to the mom. Under the new rule, set to take effect in 2026, parents can file for either single or joint custody, and child support is necessary from the parent who isn't the main custodian. The law will apply retroactively for already-divorced couples.

If one parent is suspected of abuse or domestic violence, the other parent will retain sole custody rights. As per the revision, parents who go the joint custody route also have to sign off on an agreement regarding the kids' education, medical care over the years, and other important topics; if a deal can't be struck, family court will make the call. Proponents of the revision say it keeps both parents in the loop and involved with their children; some have complained that their former partners with sole custody have alienated the kids from them, or even abducted them.

However, women's rights activists worry that the updated law will force women who escaped abusive marriages to keep in touch with their abusers. "They can't escape," one lawyer tells the BBC. Due to these concerns, a clause was added after parliamentary debate that asks for measures to "confirm the true intention" of each parent, though critics say government action to protect domestic violence victims is too weak at the moment, per Kyodo News. That outlet notes there were 160,000 children in Japan who saw their parents split in 2022—about twice the number from 1950. The law will be reviewed in five years to check on its efficacy. (More Japan stories.)

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