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Introduction of joint custody in Japan, complicated by domestic violence; Lawmakers are calling for an expansion of the family court system


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

One of the focuses of parliamentary deliberations on the introduction of joint custody was whether family courts could properly identify domestic violence, leading to a ruling on sole custody.

Domestic violence includes both physical and psychological violence, including verbal abuse, as well as economic abuse, such as withholding finances. Victims of domestic abuse and support groups strongly opposed the proposed overhaul of the law, saying there is a risk that family courts will not recognize abuse and enforce joint custody.

“In many domestic violence cases that happen behind closed doors, there are no recordings or documentation to provide evidence, and some people blame themselves. And some don’t realize they are victims,” ​​said Setsuo Shimosaka, 73, a former family court investigator and deputy director of the Tokyo-based Family Problems Information Center. “Often the perpetrator is not even aware of the domestic violence.”

To determine who will receive custody of the child, the family court hears arguments from both parties and, if necessary, a family court investigator visits the home to investigate the situation. However, there may be cases where the family court may have difficulty determining whether domestic violence has occurred. The proposed revision of the law will allow the Family Court to make many of the final decisions in cases of parental disagreement, making it imperative to improve the Family Court system.

According to the Supreme Court, in 2022 there were 44,163 petitions for trial and arbitration related to child custody, including requests for child support, an increase of about 10% from a decade ago. The average trial time per case has increased to 8.5 months, 3.3 months longer than 10 years ago.


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The Yomiuri Shimbun

The number of cases heard by the family court is likely to increase after the law comes into effect. The legal affairs committees of the House of Councilors and the House of Representatives adopted an additional resolution calling for an expansion of the system, including an increase in the number of judges and family law examiners.

“We must avoid situations where, as a result of lengthy legal proceedings, children have to endure an unstable environment for a long time and suffer damage to their mental well-being,” said a senior judge. Measures are reportedly being considered within the courts, such as reassigning civil judges to domestic cases and using online meetings to speed up trials.

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