In Japan, the issue of child custody has been an area of international contention ever since human rights and the equal rights of both parents have become so widespread. In the UK and many other countries, when a couple separate, child custody is decided based on the grounds of which parent is most able to care for the child or children. If both parents are able then they will share joint custody. However, in Japan, when a couple separate one partner is given sole custody of the child or children and it is usually the mother. This means that the father has no legal rights to visit their child until they are grown-up.

This situation has led many countries to call on Japan to adapt its child custody laws so that more equal rights are given to both parents and the child’s needs are taken into account. Studies have shown that children benefit from communication with both parents and so it does not seem reasonable to cut off communication all together with one parent. Child Mediation Services

There are also issues relating to child abduction cases between Japan and other countries. If an international marriage breaks down, the Japanese mother can bring their child into Japan and refuse any contact with the foreign father. This is regardless of what custody arrangements have been made in other countries. So for example, if a Japanese woman married an American man in the US and had a child together, separated and were granted joint custody in the US, the mother could still take her child back to Japan and prevent her ex-husband from gaining access to the child.

There is an international convention on child abduction which the US, France, Australia, The United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand and Canada have all signed but which Japan is not a party to at the moment. Japan has claimed that if they signed the convention then Japanese mothers who fled with their children away from abusive foreign husbands would have no protection, however that is not the case. Now minsters from Japan are working on resolving the issue which will allow foreign parents visitation to their children and place an emphasis on the needs of the children involved.

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