Japan govt OK’s bill to allow joint custody after divorce

Japan govt OK’s bill to allow joint custody after divorce
Japan govt OK’s bill to allow joint custody after divorce

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Japan moved closer today to allowing joint custody after divorce, with the cabinet approving changes to laws that critics say cut children off from one parent. ― AFP pic

TOKYO, March 8 — Japan moved closer today to allowing joint custody after divorce, with the cabinet approving changes to laws that critics say cut children off from one parent.

For decades, one parent — almost always the mother — has been granted 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 it can cause meaningful contact to be cut off between the other parent and their child.

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The issue was put in the international spotlight in 2021 when French father Vincent Fichot went on hunger strike for three weeks during the Tokyo Olympics.

He was seeking access to his two children who he said had been abducted by his estranged Japanese former partner.

Today, a proposal to provide the option of joint custody after divorce was approved by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet and will go before parliament in the coming months.

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Long-simmering frustrations over lack of access to children and societal changes such as fathers becoming more involved in child-rearing have increased pressure for change.

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

The new bill proposes that sole custody be maintained if both parents agree it is the best option, or in court-recognised cases of domestic violence or child abuse.

One parent will also be able to make decisions without consulting the other on issues like schooling or health in “emergency circumstances”, a justice ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

No official tallies exist for the number of minors cut off from a parent in Japan, but even so, campaigns both for and against the changes have been loud.

A 2022 survey carried out by a support group for single mothers found that 80 per cent of single parents in Japan were against or disinclined towards joint custody.

“Even in cases of domestic violence, failure to prove it in court due to insufficient evidence can lead to joint custody being established,” campaigners against the move said in January. — AFP

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