Custody Battles in Japan

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Michael Hassett writes:

“There is a 21.1-percent likelihood that a man who marries a Japanese national will do the following: create at least one child with his spouse (85.2 percent probability), then divorce within the first 20 years of marriage (31 percent), and subsequently lose custody of any children (80 percent). And in a country such as Japan — one that has no visitation rights and neither statutes nor judicial precedents providing for joint custody — loss of custody often translates into complete loss of contact, depending on the desire of the mother.

And if this figure is not startling enough, this year’s calculation using more current data would leave us with an even higher likelihood: 22 percent. Having this information, we must now ask a question that most of us would dread presenting to a friend in a fog of engagement glee: Is it the behavior of a wise man to pursue a course of action that has such a high probability of leaving your future children without any contact with their own father?

Most of us enter a marriage with the realization that divorce is a possibility. Of course, we don’t hope for a breakup, but we accept that unions do occasionally dissolve, and heartbreak — usually temporary — will often result. However, do we ever enter marriage thinking beyond our own selves to the realization that there is a substantial likelihood that our own children — our personal flesh and blood — will be ripped from our lives? Doubtful. But in this country, this loss happens to one in every four fathers. Does it happen more to non-Japanese men? Most likely not. The divorce-to-marriage ratio for relationships between Japanese women and foreign men was nearly 39 percent in 2006. For the entire nation it was 41 percent.And non-Japanese women married to Japanese men should not rest too comfortably either. Their divorce-to-marriage ratio was over 38 percent in 2006. And even though mothers are usually awarded custody of children, it has been widely reported that foreign parents here in Japan are almost never successful in custody claims, and even if the foreign parent is lucky enough to eventually be granted custody, effecting such a court order may prove very difficult because law enforcement generally prefers to remain uninvolved in these complicated, emotion-filled cases. According to Colin P. A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, “family courts will usually do what is easy, and giving custody to the Japanese parent is usually going to be easier.””

Click here for the rest of the story. Illustration by Chris MacKenzie. 

BT article on Japan’s parental abduction treaty.

BT article on USFJ service members obtaining citizenship for their foreign spouse.

BT article on abandoned families in Japan.

BT article on problems foreigners face with the Japanese family registry system.

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