Japan Considers Joint Custody

July 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Way back in the 80s, I used to watch what was then “The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour.” It usually dealt with three issues, allocating about 20 minutes to each. The show always had guests with competing viewpoints on whatever the topic was. It was so invariable in that way that it moved some wag to write a humorous takeoff on it, something like “Jesus Christ – Son of God or Jewish Troublemaker? Tonight we have two views…”

This article reminded me of that old send-up of McNeil-Lehrer (Japan News, 7/15/18). It’s about the fact that the Japanese government seems to be considering revamping its child custody laws that desperately need it. Japan is explicitly a sole-custody country. Here’s how the article describes its approach to child custody post-divorce:

Article 819 of the Civil Code stipulates that custody after divorce shall be possessed by one parent. This removes from the family register the official relationship between a parent without custody and their child or children.

A parent who has custody holds the right and duty to educate their children and administer their children’s property, but a parent without custody is rarely involved in raising his or her offspring, and is also tightly restricted from seeing them.

Needless to say, custodial parents are almost exclusively mothers. Not content to marginalize the non-custodial parent, Japanese law appears to actually sever the legal relationship between that parent and his children.

So the government is thinking about changing the law to promote joint custody. What would that mean in practice?

Under an envisaged system, custody rights will remain for both father and mother after a divorce. Thus, both parents will continue to be jointly responsible for raising their children. By encouraging interaction with children and divorced parents through more frequent visitation, the government aims to create an environment to facilitate the balanced upbringing of children.

Ah, comes the dawn! Those words “more frequent visitation” are the real indicator of what the Japanese government is up to, i.e. not much. After all, given that now the non-custodial parent is “tightly restricted from seeing [the kids],” “more frequent visitation” might mean anything. One day per month would likely be a big change.

We’ll see what happens, but at least Japan is making noises about moving in the direction of real joint custody. Stated another way, they’re starting to think about no longer abusing the children of divorce.

What amuses me about the article, what made me think of that long-ago jab at McNeil-Lehrer is the handy-dandy chart at the head of the article. It’s carefully divided into the pros and cons of sole and joint custody and, in the scrupulously balanced way of the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, there are two pros for sole custody, two pros for joint custody and of course two cons for each.

Sometimes journalists get the whole idea of “balance” wrong. They think – and their editors agree – that, regardless of the issue, there must be two (and often only two) sides, each of which requires an airing. The simple fact is that often, that’s just not true. I mean, what’s next, “There were some GOOD things about World War II?”

So what, according to the article, are the positives about sole parenting? One is “Helps child build stable relationship with parent.” Really? The fact is that, unless the child is a newborn, it already has a stable relationship with its parents. Sole custody destroys one of those relationships.

What about the negatives of joint custody? One of course is one of the usual talking points of the anti-shared parenting crowd.

May cause child to have “two homes” by going back and forth between parents’ houses.

That of course has been debunked numerous times by the applicable science, but the anti-shared parenting minions don’t have anything better to offer, so they keep repeating the “kids living out of a suitcase” red herring.

What’s most remarkable about the article’s chart is that it nowhere includes the concept that kids do better and are happier, healthier and better adjusted when raised in joint custody than in any other post-divorce arrangement. To say the least, that’s a notable omission. Indeed, I’d think it would be by far the most important item on the chart. But of course if that fact were listed, it would obviate the chart altogether. After all, what’s best for kids should outweigh everything else, right?

But that would run afoul of the journalist’s need for “balance” however deceptive and illusory it may be.

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