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International Family Law

The leading authority on international family law

29 AUG 2012

Japan - Amended family law came into effect from 1 April 2012

Mikiko Otani

You may know that the Japanese Family Law (Civil Code) adopts the ‘sole custody' system for the parent/child relationship after divorce. Another unique feature of the Japanese divorce system is that couples may get divorced without going to the court: ‘A husband and wife may divorce by agreement' (Art 763). If divorcing couples have a minor child, they may agree upon which parent shall have parental authority (equivalent to parental authority or custody in other jurisdictions' over the child (Art 819(1)). In other words, as far as the couples agree on divorce and parental authority over a minor child, they can achieve divorce very easily in a simple way - just by signing a divorce paper and submit it to the municipal office.

A question arises: What would happen then to visitation or child support? How, when and where should the parents discuss and decide these matters for their minor child? Making agreements on visitation and child support is not required under the law. The consequence is miserable. The survey on the single mother households conducted by Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2006 revealed that about 66% of the couples divorced by agreement have no child support agreement. Unsurprisingly, payment of child support is exception rather than the standard practice, which is confirmed by the fact that only 19% of the single mothers answered that they were receiving child support at the time of survey. As to the visitation agreement and actual practice, even official data does not exist.

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