Ethics and Care in Sole Custody Policy

Japan has had a long legal tradition of awarding only sole custody in the event of the dissolution of a marriage: this is deeply rooted in the traditional koseki family registry system. Koseki means “membership of a household” and is oriented towards the household as a group rather than to individual status. Therefore, in the koseki system, a child must be attached to one household or the other in the case of divorce, and this remains the current policy in Japan today.

With custody granted to only one parent (almost always the holding parent and usually the mother), there is an epidemic of children growing up without the financial and emotional involvement of the non-custodial parent (usually the father). In Japan, 90% of divorcing women assume sole custody, with 70% of non-custodial parents having no contact with their children post-divorce. This complex legal territory is further complicated by issues involving protections from domestic violence and child abduction. Yet, rather than providing an ethical basis for the care and protection of women and the rights of children, it is widely observed—especially from an international perspective—that the current legal framework ends up incentivising child abduction as a strategy to obtain custodianship.

The koseki-driven custodial system further exacerbates an underreported crisis in Japan for single-parent homes and parental estrangement from children. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 6 children live in poverty in Japan, with the majority of those being in single parent homes. Furthermore, 3 million children in Japan are estranged from a parent and blocked from access to that parent.

With domestic and international efforts underway to reform Japan’s sole custody policy, this panel seeks to assess the ethics and care of the current legal landscape and will consider such issues as single-parent homes, child welfare, domestic violence protection, the role of the father, and the rights of the child to be raised by both parents in the case of separation.

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Posted by IAFOR