his Oct. 6 column, “Savoie case shines spotlight on Japan’s ‘disappeared dads,’ ” Debito Arudou aptly observes that kids are the main losers when their parents part, and even bigger losers when their parted parents fail to agree to maintain meaningful contact. But some of his statements about the role of family registers and “custody” in Japan are incorrect.
Family registers (koseki) are passive on matters of family law. They merely facilitate the Civil Code, which currently provides that parents share “parental rights” if married. And only one parent will be designated the “person with parental rights” when the parents are not married.
When a child’s parents are not married — regardless of whether they had never been married or had divorced — questions of the child’s register association, which parent has parental rights and who actually raises the child are separate issues. By default, a child born out of wedlock will be associated with its mother’s register, and she will have parental rights. However, a “father” can be designated the rightful parent even though the child remains associated with its mother’s register and bears her family name. Because register associations of married couples are more complex, postdivorce arrangements entail more choices, but the choices are similarly flexible with regard to the independence of register association and parental rights.
It will be interesting to see how Japanese courts treat Christopher Savoie, aka Saboi Kurisu, under international private law, according to which a dual American-Japanese national in Japan is to be treated as Japanese — and how they regard his alleged “remarriage” in the United States to an American woman while, in Japan, his family register reportedly still shows him to be married to a Japanese woman.