Japan and Custody Battles: Facing U.S. Pressure

It was recently reported at Japan Today that the U.S. House of Representatives is asking Japan to re-think its policy on custody battles that involve foreign parents. U.S. Representatives such as Chris Smith have stated that, “Americans are fed up with our friend and ally Japan and their pattern of noncooperation” when it comes to this issue. The Japanese Embassy’s response was that Japan “is continuing to make sincere efforts to deal with this issue from the standpoint that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost importance.”1

So while Japan has made no commitment to changing its custody policies, you may be wondering why another country would go so far as to draw attention to Japan’s legal system, especially when the U.S. considers Japan an ally and Japan is one of the world’s richest nations. What’s going on in the Japanese legal system when it comes to divorce?

It can be very difficult to divorce in Japan if the couple isn’t in mutual agreement, especially if one member of the coupling is a Japanese citizen and the other is a foreigner. (Conversely, if the couple can reach an agreement, all they need to do is file some paperwork and the divorce will happen much more quickly than it does in other nations.) If the couple can’t agree, the one who initiates the divorce must provide a legally valid reason for divorce, such as adultery, abuse or criminal activity, in order to receive any alimony (although more often than not, the alimony will be a lump sum payment).

More often than not, the Japanese citizen will receive full custody of any children (especially if the Japanese citizen is the mother) and the foreigner parent will only have visitation that’s not really enforced, making it easy for the ex to simply refuse to let the foreigner parent see the children. This is assuming the foreigner parent can stay in Japan–there’s little chance that the foreigner parent can hope that the Japanese law will force his or her ex to send the children to another country for visitation.

Strangely, though, Japan’s refusal to allow foreigners to see their Japanese children extends even to non-Japanese citizens in Japan. According to Japan Today, an American man’s American ex-wife with no Japanese ties moved to Osaka with their American daughter and he can’t get the cooperation of the Japanese government to have his daughter sent back despite the fact that his ex broke the custody agreement.

Do you know anyone who divorced in Japan? Did they experience difficulty if there were children involved?

1 “U.S. lawmakers pressure Japan on child custody rights.” Japan Today. 30 September 2010. .

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Tags: custody, divorce, family, government, japan, japan news, law, usa