Campaigners call for dual custody of children

by Minoru Matsutani

Foreigners who have divorced their Japanese spouses are often denied access to their children.

This is because Article 819 of the Civil Code stipulates that only one of the parents can have parental rights following a divorce, causing family courts to rule against dual custody of children.

Thierry Consigny, an elected member of the Assembly for French Overseas Nationals for Japan and North Asia, promised Monday in Tokyoto “raise awareness of the issue among lawmakers, the government and media.”

While he spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Consigny was joined by several foreign and Japanese parents who have been unable to see their children for years after divorce and who spoke of their tragic experiences.

Consigny emphasized that this is not just the problem of foreigners, but it is also a Japanese problem. More than 160,000 parents in Japan are unable to meet their children after separation or divorce. More than 10,000 dual citizenship children living in Japan cannot see their foreign parents.

Such situations are seldom observed in Europe, where no laws stipulate that the single parental right is mandatory, or the United Sates, where divorcing parents can choose dual or single parental rights, according to Hiroaki Morita, chairman of Separated Children’s Support, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization.

Japan has indicated it may consider signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Abduction.

However, Takao Tanase, a professor at Chuo University in Tokyo and a member of the Committee on Family Law Legislation in the Japan Federation of Bar Association, told the FCCJ that the government’s position is that it already complies with the convention because it serves the “best interest” of the children in these disputes.

Tanase said Japan’s judicial interpretation of the “best interest” is that once children are securely placed in a new environment, it is best for them to stay in that environment, while the U.S. and European interpretation is simply that children should be free of abuse.

Tanase said he agrees with Consigny that the Civil Code should change because it is obsolete considering that the number of divorces in Japan has increased.