Law passed to allow joint custody after divorce

LAWMAKERS have enacted legislation that allows the option of joint custody of children after divorce.

For decades in Japan, one parent – almost always the mother – has been granted legal custody when a marriage ends, a rule seen by its supporters as a safeguard against domestic violence and child abuse.

But concerns have been raised that it can cause meaningful contact to be cut off between the other parent and their child.

Long-simmering frustrations of non-custodial parents – often fathers – over lack of access to children have helped build pressure for change.

A UN committee in 2019 recommended that Japan “allow for shared custody of children when it is in the child’s best interests, including for foreign parents”.

The new Bill, passed yesterday, stipulates that sole custody be maintained if both parents agree it is the best option, or in court-recognised cases of domestic violence or child abuse.

One parent will also be able to make decisions without consulting the other on issues like schooling or health in “emergency circumstances”.

No official tallies exist for the number of minors cut off from a parent in Japan, but even so, campaigns both for and against the changes have been loud.

A 2022 survey carried out by a support group for single mothers found that 80% of single parents in Japan were against or disinclined towards joint custody.

“Even in cases of domestic violence, failure to prove it in court due to insufficient evidence can lead to joint custody being established,” campaigners against the move said in January. — AFP

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