The prenuptial agreement, an age-old practice fairly common in many Western countries, is gaining a foothold in Japan as more and more people insist on drawing one up to ensure they will be protected if their marriage ends badly.
In Japan, formalizing the do’s and don’ts of married life or how assets would be split in a breakup has largely been viewed as dooming a marriage, with any discussion of the already taboo topic of divorce a cultural no-no.
But with as many as 200,000 divorces occurring each year, Japanese couples have increasingly begun to arrange “prenups” to hedge against any doubts about their partner and to ensure certain values and details are clearly stated before they take the plunge.
Japanese pop singer Silva, 43, had a prenuptial agreement arranged with her current husband, a man one year her senior, in a notarized deed in 2015. The contract lists 34 conditions, including Silva’s requirement that her husband has no more than two outside drinking sessions per week.
Other terms stipulate the couple must always spend their anniversary together, and that in the event of a divorce Silva be compensated with ¥1 million (about $9,000). Both have divorced once before.
“Because things weren’t clearly decided (in my previous marriage), during the divorce we ended up arguing a lot,” Silva said. “If I was going to consider remarrying, I was also determined not to let it fail again.”
The idea to get legal advice before remarrying came from Silva, who had spent about three years living in the United States about a decade ago. She came to know people who had arranged prenuptial agreements and learned how it helped them build secure relationships, she said.
Silva said when she at first broached the topic with her partner, he was taken aback. It took about 18 months to convince him to put their terms down in writing.
Their contract, however, covers a multitude of issues that also include work, the sharing of domestic and child-rearing chores, as well as rules prohibiting cheating and falling into debt. It also sets out terms regarding child custody and child support payments.
One item that was inserted by Silva’s husband was that “they contact each other every day about when they will arrive home and promptly return all text messages.”
Because both Silva and her husband work, the contract also states that caring for in-laws “will be done voluntarily and never by force.”
“You would need a lot of nerve to break this contract,” said Silva with a laugh. “We made this together so there is no argument about, ‘I said this or didn’t say that.’ We take mutual responsibility and have become a married couple who pay each other the utmost respect,” she said.
Yuriko Tada, an executive board member and notary public with the group Prenup Kyokai has, for a fee, arranged prenups for 70 couples since 2014. She said she has seen a gradual rise in people seeking such agreements, mainly women between 20 and 50.
Many women worry about potential issues with unfaithfulness or debt, while men tend to want to cover their assets.
A Tokyo housewife in her 30s arranged a prenup several years ago after consulting with Tada about her fiance’s money problems.
“I’m not sure if my partner changed after the contract was made but it gave me a sense of security rather than doing nothing,” she said.
In some cases after prenuptial negotiations, a couple may come to realize their marriage is just not meant to be because of a difference in values, Tada said. She advises such arrangements be made to make the best of marriage.
“By facing the realities of marriage, they are able to create an even better relationship as a married couple,” Tada said.