In a landmark policy shift, the Justice Ministry will submit an amendment to the Diet seeking the abolishment of a six-month ban on women remarrying after divorce, an official said Friday.
The amendment contains a provision that women are not pregnant at the time the marriage is dissolved.
If enacted, the proposal — drafted in response to a Supreme Court ruling in December — will end a law that came into effect in 1898 that critics have blasted as sexist.
For women who are pregnant at the time of their divorce and who desire to remarry, the proposal seeks to shorten the current 180-day waiting period to 100 days, while women who are not pregnant would not have to wait at all.
The ministry is planning to submit the amendment to the Diet in March, the ministry official, who declined to be named, told The Japan Times.
The Supreme Court, in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman in her 30s in Okayama Prefecture, ruled in December that the century-old statute banning remarriage within six months of divorce was unconstitutional.
The top court determined that the law “excessively restricts women’s right to freedom of marriage.”
The ban was originally introduced during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) to avert confusion over the paternity of children born immediately after a divorce. But the court said it no longer serves that purpose in an era of early pregnancy detection and DNA testing.
Tomoshi Sakka, the lawyer who represented the Okayama woman, hailed the proposal by the Justice Ministry as “groundbreaking” and said he was surprised the ministry had taken such a bold step to modernize the law.
While shortening the ban to 100 days is designed to keep in line with the Supreme Court decision, declaring divorcees immediately able to remarry signals a historic — if long overdue — end to discrimination against women, he said.
“Since it is estimated that 90 percent of women are not pregnant when they divorce, the proposal, (if passed), would exempt almost all divorcees from the current ban,” Sakka said.
However, he added, Japan still lags behind countries such as Germany and others, where even pregnant divorcees do not have to contend with such a ban, and where fetuses are automatically recognized as having been fathered by the new husband.
Scrapping the proposed 100-day ban on pregnant women is now the last hurdle Japan needs to overcome, he said.
“I was happy the Supreme Court ruled in my favor, but the fact that the Diet will discuss such a drastic legal revision has made me doubly happy,” the Okayama woman was quoted by Sakka as saying.
The statute declaring a six-month ban on women’s remarriage corresponds to a separate law stipulating that a baby born within 300 days of divorce is the child of the previous husband, while one born at least 200 days after the second marriage will be considered that of the new husband.