A Japanese government subcommittee proposed legal revisions Tuesday that would allow for joint parental custody of children after divorce, marking the first shift toward introducing a system that is common practice in many other countries.
The proposal comes amid increased attention on bitter custodial battles between divorced parents, with many former spouses unable to see their children under Japan’s current policy of sole custody.
The draft proposal on post-divorce childcare presented by the family law subcommittee of the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council recommended that parents decide together on whether they have sole or joint custody of their children, with family courts only intervening if there is a dispute.
Proponents of joint custody argue that the system is more relevant in light of diversifying family relationships by enabling both parents to be involved in their child’s upbringing following divorce.
But concerns persist that the system could also perpetuate domestic violence or abuse by forcing ongoing contact with a former spouse.
The family law subcommittee of the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council holds a meeting in Tokyo on Aug. 29, 2023, to discuss potential changes to how custody over children is decided after divorce. (Kyodo)
An interim draft last November also included the option of maintaining the current system of sole parental custody, meaning the latest proposal could still see changes following further discussions by the subcommittee.
Many countries already recognize joint custody of children in the event of their parents getting divorced, and there are calls within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for legal reforms to be discussed in the ordinary parliamentary session next year.
The draft proposal suggests that if parents cannot reach an agreement on the custody of their children, the matter will be decided by family courts based on the dynamics within each family, with cases of domestic violence and abuse factored into the decision.
Under joint custody, both parents have the right to make day-to-day decisions concerning their child, such as those concerning their education and medical treatment.
The proposal also suggests the introduction of a mandatory child support payment scheme and the provision of better legal mechanisms for seizing assets in certain cases.