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Parents' group demands state redress over Japan's post-divorce single-custody system

Plaintiffs in a state redress class action lawsuit hold a news conference after they filed a complaint with the Tokyo District Court, on Nov. 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- A group of mothers and fathers has filed a class action lawsuit demanding state compensation of 12 million yen (about $11,000), claiming that Japanese Civil Code provisions awarding child custody to only one parent after a divorce is unconstitutional.

In what appears to be Japan's first class-action over the unconstitutionality of the single-custody system, 12 plaintiffs -- mothers and fathers in their 40s to their 60s who live separately from their children -- from eight prefectures claim that the legal system goes against the Japanese Constitution's guarantee of equality under law. The group filed the suit with the Tokyo District Court on Nov. 22.

Under the Civil Code, only one parent is granted custody over their child after divorce. If the parents fail to reach a custody agreement, courts decide which parent is to have rights over the child.

According to the complaint, the group claims that while a married couple in principle has joint custody over their children, that right is stripped from one parent after divorce. They also argue that when a parent who wishes to raise a child is denied opportunities to be involved in raising them, it constitutes discrimination.

The government says it has not received the complaint and cannot comment on the case.

Regarding the single-custody system, the Tokyo High Court ruled in September 2018 in a divorce case that custody should be given "in consideration for the welfare of the child. Therefore, simply not allowing joint custody itself cannot be called unconstitutional." The ruling has been finalized.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi, City News Department)

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