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Japan is changing the law to allow joint custody after divorce

Japanese lawmakers on Friday passed legislation allowing joint custody of children after divorce.

In Japan, for decades, one parent — almost always the mother — has been awarded 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 this could lead to a breakdown of meaningful contact between the other parent and their child.

Longstanding frustrations from non-custodial parents – often fathers – over the lack of access to children have helped increase pressure for change.

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

The new bill stipulates that sole custody will be retained if both parents agree that this is the best option, or in cases of domestic violence or child abuse recognized by the court.

One parent will also be able to make decisions in ’emergency circumstances’ without consulting the other about matters such as education or health.

No official figures exist for the number of minors cut off from their parents in Japan, yet campaigns both for and against the changes have been loud.

A 2022 survey conducted by a support group for single mothers found that 80% of single parents in Japan opposed or did not support joint custody.

“Even in cases of domestic violence, the inability to prove this in court due to insufficient evidence can lead to the imposition of joint custody,” campaigners against the measure said in January.

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