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Japan looks at introducing joint custody amid rise in divorce rate

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TOKYO -- A subcommittee at the Ministry of Justice has decided to propose introducing a joint custody system for divorced couples with children in Japan.

    The current Civil Code stipulates sole custody for divorced couples. The subcommittee will compile an interim draft of the revision to the civil law by August and then collect public comments on the matter before holding concluding discussions.

    The Civil Code allows married couples to have joint custody over their child, but only grants custody to one of the parents after a divorce. In recent years, about 200,000 married couples, or about one in three, are divorcing per year in Japan, and non-payment of child support and disconnection of exchanges between the child and the non-custodial parent have become social problems.

    Meanwhile, with the social advancement of women and increasing participation of men in child-rearing, some say that it is "irresponsible to abandon the role of the parent after divorce and cutting off the relationship with their child." Furthermore, cases of custody battles and "abduction of a child," when a parent takes a child without the consent of their ex-partner, are becoming frequent. Joint custody after divorce is common practice in many other countries.

    According to those familiar with the matter, the Justice Ministry's proposal allows divorced parents to choose joint custody on their own or through court decisions, in cases where it is in the best interests of the child that both parents continue to be involved in their upbringing. Specifically, the joint custody system envisaged would allow both parents to carefully consider and make decisions for their child, such as regarding their education or how they should treat an illness.

    A proposal making joint custody a general rule and another one principled on sole custody will apparently be presented to the subcommittee.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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