OSAKA – Is it “too easy” to get a divorce in Japan?
There is an increasing number of cases of foreign women claiming their former Japanese husbands divorced them by submitting “uncontested divorce” papers in which signatures were faked, according to a group that advises foreign divorcees.
Mutually agreed divorces in Japan do not require court proceedings. Application papers are submitted to municipal government offices and the presence of both parties is not required. The system is unfair to foreign spouses who have difficulty communicating in Japanese, the advisory group says.
One such case is that of 44-year-old Marietta David from the Philippines, which came to the attention of the Association for Toyonaka Multicultural Symbiosis, a cooperative foundation in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.
In 2001, David married a Japanese man she met while working as a dancer in a bar in Kumamoto Prefecture. They moved to the Philippines and had two children.
But after around three years, the couple’s relationship deteriorated and she suffered domestic violence.
Her husband moved back to Japan, leaving David and the children in the Philippines. She did not want a divorce and tried to contact him without success.
It was only in 2011 when she returned to Japan and sought to register as a nursing care worker that she discovered her husband had divorced her.
“I never signed papers,” she said, and did not know “why and how a divorce could be finalized.” She said her husband must have forged the divorce papers.
Such faked divorces are easy in Japan, David says, calling for a system that confirms both parties’ consent. She has since given up demanding that the divorce be nullified.
Under the current system, authorities do not need to confirm the consent of both parties. A finalization notice in Japanese is delivered to the address on the applicants’ residence certificate. If a spouse does not consent, he or she can inform authorities not to accept divorce papers submitted by the other party.
Justice Ministry officials admit that the current system is problematic.
Kaori Yoshijima, an adviser at the Toyonaka foundation, said, “Even if people want to contest the validity of divorces, the judicial process is too complicated, and many are forced to accept them.”
The foundation said it received 67 complaints from foreigners regarding unwanted divorce in the year ending March 2015 and 69 cases in the nine months through the end of that year.
Shuhei Ninomiya, a professor at Ritsumeikan University who specializes in family law, said the system of uncontested divorce was not common outside Japan.
South Korea, for example, had a similar system but family courts were required to confirm both parties’ consent and there was more information on divorce procedures, such as booklets, available for foreigners, according to Ninomiya.
“The system has a reasonable aspect, but it is not easy for foreigners to understand. Even Japanese people are not very familiar with the fact that one can apply to contest a divorce,” Ninomiya said.