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Breaking Traditions: Japan’s Child Custody Revolution

Japan’s parliament has recently approved a significant change to a decades-old law that has been subject to criticism from divorced partners who have been estranged from their children as a result. 

Japan’s Shift

Most divorces in Japan occur through “consent divorce” whereby both parties mutually end the marriage by signing a document which contains details about arrangements for children, among other provisions. 

If couples cannot agree arrangements between themselves, judges will often award sole custody to one parent, typically mothers, in order to promote stability and continuity for the child. However, this has sometimes resulted in cutting off the non-custodial parent.

Approach in England and Wales 

In England and Wales, the terminology has evolved from ‘child custody’ to ‘child arrangements’. The aim was to move away from the adversarial connotations associated with the word ‘custody’ and promote cooperation between parents.

Child arrangements are often agreed through direct agreements and mediation between parents without the need for the Court to intervene. If parents cannot agree then they can, as a last resort, go to Court but the aim even during proceedings is to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement. 

There is a presumption in law that children benefit from meaningful relationships with both parents, and this is still the case after separation, and the courts encourage both parents to be active in a child’s life where appropriate and possible. Recent changes to the Family Procedure Rules (a set of guidelines which provide a framework for how the court deals with family cases) have brought a new emphasis on parents using non-court methods such as mediation and arbitration to resolve their disputes.

Change for the better?

It is hoped that the new law in Japan will take effect by 2026, whereby parents can choose either dual or single custody, with emphasis on cooperation and the child’s well-being. The change aims to bridge gaps and provide hope for estranged parents to build meaningful connections with their children.

Changes are welcomed as a positive step towards greater parental involvement and shared responsibility for children in Japan. 

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