Japan Upper House committee approves bill allowing joint custody in divorces

A committee of Japan's Upper House has approved a bill to amend the Civil Code and other laws to allow divorced parents to share custody of their children.

Under the proposed system, the parents will discuss whether to apply for joint or sole custody, and if they fail to agree, a family court will decide.

If the court recognizes that domestic violence or child abuse has taken place, sole custody will be granted.

The draft bill passed the Lower House last month after it was revised to include a supplementary clause that calls for considering measures to confirm the true intention of parents, if they agree on joint custody.

It was then sent to the Upper House for deliberation.

At Thursday's session of the chamber's Judicial Affairs Committee, Ishikawa Hirotaka of the junior coalition partner Komeito noted the need for the new system to be reviewed and improved step by step, saying consistent effort is necessary to protect children's best interests.

Justice Minister Koizumi Ryuji said in reply that a panel of officials from relevant ministries and agencies will be set up to coordinate and organize information after the bill is enacted.

Yamazoe Taku of the Japanese Communist Party argued that the biggest problem is that a court can force joint custody even if no agreement is reached between divorced parents. He said there is growing concern about this issue.

Koizumi replied that a court will mediate and make an objective decision on whether joint custody is possible.
He said this does not mean the court would have a free hand.

The bill was approved with a majority vote of the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, the Japan Innovation Party and the Democratic Party for the People. The Japanese Communist Party opposed the bill.

The committee also approved the supplementary clause that calls for reviews and revisions after the legislation takes effect. The clause also requests relevant ministries and agencies to consider how to provide consultations for children.

The revised bill is expected to be enacted at an Upper House plenary session on Friday.