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Mom prevails as top court upholds ruling in high-profile custody rights case

Kyodo

The Supreme Court has upheld a decision that granted a mother custody of her 9-year-old daughter, finalizing a high-profile dispute over custody rights.

After the couple separated in May 2010, their relationship worsened. The woman then absconded with the daughter without her husband’s consent, the decision, dated Wednesday, states.

The husband proposed that his wife be allowed to see the daughter 100 days a year if he were awarded custody, while the wife had offered to let him see the child once a month. The woman sued to get court authorization for the divorce and custody of the child.

“If their daughter, who is an elementary school pupil, goes back and forth between the parents’ homes 100 days a year, it would impose a physical burden on her and have an impact on school work and relationships with her friends,” said Justice Kaoru Onimaru, who presided over the panel’s deliberations.

The woman’s proposal allowing her husband to meet the daughter once a month is frequent enough, the decision states.

“We accept the conclusion as reasonable,” said Takayo Kamada, the attorney representing the wife.

Lawyer Akira Ueno, representing the husband, said, “There has been no change in the situation whereby the girl cannot see her father. We will try all avenues possible to reunite them.”

The trial entered the spotlight because the initial ruling, made by the Chiba Family Court’s Matsudo branch in March 2016, emphasized the “friendly parent rule,” which grants custody to the parent deemed more inclined to allow greater visitation. It ordered the mother to hand over the girl to the father.

This was a rare move, as custody in Japan is typically granted to the parent with whom the child already lives.

The high court overturned the family court’s decision in January, saying the young girl wished to live with her mother and that granting her custody would benefit the daughter.

The high court’s judgment was based on the principle of continuity, with the court stating that spending time with a separated parent is not the only factor in a child’s healthy development.

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