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How do you find a missing spouse in Japan?

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Contributing Writer

A reader writes: “I live in Japan with my son. His father left us nine years ago. After a couple of months, he contacted me, though he has never contacted us since then. I have never heard any news from him. I tried also to send a letter to his parents with a picture of my son attached, but I received no reply from them. I’m so desperate to know what happened to him and even whether he is still alive or not.”

There are several ways for the reader to find her husband if she consults with a lawyer. The usual way of tracing someone’s address is to ask a lawyer to obtain their family registry (koseki-tohon) or certificate of residence (juuminhyō) from their local municipal office. Attorneys are allowed to obtain someone’s koseki-tohon or juuminhyō without the permission of that person, as long as it is deemed necessary for a case.

If the reader knows the address of where she and her husband used to live or his parents live, a lawyer can trace her husband’s present address by obtaining his koseki-tohon and juuminhyō. However, it is essential that the reader knows the kanji of her husband’s or husband’s parents’ names in order to obtain those documents. Sometimes, the fact that non-Japanese spouses do not know the kanji of their spouse’s name can stop a case moving forward.

To avoid this kind of situation, non-Japanese spouses are advised to copy the koseki-tohon or take a picture of it when they marry a Japanese national.

Once the lawyer has traced her husband’s address, the lawyer can contact and negotiate with him over the terms of the divorce, presuming that is what she wants. If he does not reply to the lawyer, she can sue him for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. If he is not living in Japan, she can still sue him at Japanese family court for divorce on the same grounds.

However, even if the husband’s address can be traced, it may be that the husband no longer lives in that place and neglected to change his address on his juuminhyō, for whatever reason.

In this kind of case, due to the possibility that he might be missing or has passed away, the wife can seek a different remedy through the courts: She can file a petition called an Adjudication of Disappearance arguing that her husband has been missing for more than seven years. If the petition is granted, her husband would be regarded as being deceased from the point seven years after the last communication with her.

Again, it’s important to stress that although the family registry and certificate of residency come in very useful when you want to trace a Japanese person’s address, a foreign spouse must know the exact kanji of their partner’s name.

Otherwise, the case risks being stuck in limbo.

Seiji Yamaura is an attorney with the Foreign nationals and International Service Section at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving non-Japanese in the Tokyo area (03-5979-2880; www.t-pblo.jp/fiss) FISS lawyers address readers’ queries once a month. Your questions and other comments: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp