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‘Good parent’ ditched in custody case reversal

Kyodo

The Tokyo High Court has overturned a rare family court decision last year that granted a father custody of his daughter because he was more inclined than his estranged wife to allow greater visitation.

Thursday’s high court ruling, which returns custody of the 9-year-old girl to the mother, emerged during an appeal trial that had left custody in limbo. The parents have been living separately since the mother took off with the child in 2010.

“The daughter has been living with her mother, is growing up healthy and wants to continue living with her mother in the future,” presiding Judge Yoichi Kikuchi said. “Taking into account what is in the best interest of the daughter, it is reasonable that custody is awarded to the mother.”

The initial ruling, handed down in March 2016 by the Chiba Family Court’s Matsudo branch, attracted public attention for applying the “good parent rule,” which grants custody to the parent deemed more inclined to allow greater visitation — and ordered the mother to hand over the girl to the father.

The father had said he would allow his wife to see her daughter 100 days a year if given custody. The mother said she would allow him to see his daughter just once a month.

Thursday’s judgment was based on the principle of continuity, with the court stating that a child’s healthy development is not ensured just by seeing a separated parent.

“The number of days for visitation is not the only criteria to decide who has custody, and is less important compared with other conditions,” the ruling asserted.

“If the daughter, who is an elementary school student, goes back and forth between the parents’ houses for 100 days a year, it would be a physical burden and would affect her relationship with her school and her friends,” the court said, judging that one visit a month is appropriate.

The mother left with her daughter in May 2010 after the couple became estranged. He has not seen the girl since September that year.

The mother issued a statement after the ruling thanking the high court for supporting her claim.

The father said he would appeal. “The judgment cannot be forgiven, because it gives advantage to a parent who took away the child first,” he said.

“It is hard to believe the high court respected the child’s will,” said the father’s lawyer, Akira Ueno.