Colin P.A. Jones in the U.S. Embassy’s “American View” @statedept

Professor Jones is discussing the topic of parental custody for divorced parents in Japan.

I am going to read this a bit deeper, but three parts stood out:

Is parental child abduction a crime?

U.S. citizen parents whose children who have been abducted to Japan are likely to be told by Japanese officials that under Japanese law it is not a crime for parents to “abduct” their own children. However, there have been instances of Japanese and foreign parents being arrested, even convicted – for kidnapping their own children. Article 224 of the Japanese Penal Code describes the crime of “abduction of a minor” in very sparse terms: “[a] person who kidnaps a minor by force or enticement shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not less than 3 months but not more than 7 years.”

The professor says that the judges have enough leeway (i.e. power) in Japan that they can actually make the behavior a crime, depending on the circumstances. The police, too.

Divorce and child custody as part of a consensual process

In Japan, both divorce and what happens to the children afterwards are presumed in the first instance to be determined through consensual arrangements. Japan’s Civil Code provides for divorce by agreement with judicial divorce being available only when the parties cannot agree and a limited range of grounds for divorce are applicable. Furthermore, unlike in the United States where even a consensual divorce involves court filings and possibly a judicially-approved parenting plan or separation agreement if children are involved, a Japanese cooperative divorce is accomplished by simply filing the relevant paperwork with a local government authority which will reflect the change in marital status and allocation of parental responsibility in the parties’ family registry. Since approximately 90% of divorces are accomplished through this process, courts only become involved in the small minority of cases where parties cannot agree on a cooperative divorce or where there is a dispute over children or other matters arise after divorce, including situations where one parent abducts the child or refuses to allow visitation after divorce.

(Emphasis added.)

So the reason that this isn’t quite the issue it is outside of Japan, is that most child custody issues are resolved by the separating parents. We do not necessarily have good information as to which parent ends up with the kids, but it seems to me it’s the mother—and that’s by choice of the splitting couple.

A number of amendments to the Civil Code were made in May 2011, though it is unclear what effect they will have on current family court practice. First, the amendments make it easier for public authorities to temporarily suspend parental authority in cases of child abuse and neglect. Under prior law the only remedy was permanent termination of parental authority. Second, under the amended law, parents seeking a cooperative divorce will be required to provide for visitation arrangements and other forms of contact as well as allocate child-rearing expenses, in each case giving priority to the welfare of their children. If they are unable to do so then a family court may make the determinations in their place. While it may seem a minor change, the fact that visitation is now even mentioned in the Civil Code could be said to represent significant progress, since before this amendment it was nothing more than a judicially-created disposition.

(Emphasis added.)

So there’s new law–or, at least, fresh law awaiting interpretation, coming along. It will be interesting to see if these statutes merely codify what goes on anyway among divorcing Japanese.