Japan Divorce & Family Law

If you’re looking to get a divorce in Japan then you can end your marriage by agreement, through mediation or through a judicial process. So, what are the grounds for divorce in Japan? How do you get a divorce? And what happens to your children and to your property when your marriage ends? Keep reading for answers to these questions and more in your complete guide to divorce in Japan.

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The divorce laws in Japan

There are four main types of divorce in Japan:

  • Divorce by agreement
  • Divorce by mediation
  • Divorce by family court decision
  • Divorce by district court judgement.

Divorce by agreement

The majority of divorces in Japan are settled by agreement (kyōgi rikon). Here, if you reach agreement with your spouse you can submit your divorce notification to the city hall and, as long as the documents have been properly signed and sealed, your divorce will be granted.

No court hearings or judgements are required.

Divorce by mediation

If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse, then divorce by mediation in a family court (chōtei rikon) is an option.

Either of you can request mediation at the family court. A judge and two arbiters will help you to reach agreement about your divorce and, if you can agree, your divorce will be granted.

Divorce by family court decision

A much rarer option is divorce by decision of the family court (shimpan rikon). When divorce cannot be established through mediation (above), a judge will decide on your divorce based on a review of documents submitted by both spouses. There are very few cases that are dealt with in this way.

If you can agree on the divorce but not on associated aspects (for example, child support) then these issues can be submitted for adjudication. You must have to try and agree through mediation before you reach this stage.

Divorce by district court judgement

If you can’t agree through mediation or the family court, you can get a divorce by judgment of a district court (saiban rikon).

Here, both spouses will submit evidence to the court and the judge will decide whether to grant the divorce.

What are the grounds for divorce in Japan?

If you cannot reach an agreement, the Japan Civil Code Article outlines five grounds for unilateral divorce:

  1. Infidelity/adultery
  2. Malicious desertion
  3. Serious mental illness with no hope of recovery
  4. Uncertainty if the spouse is dead or alive for more than three years
  5. A ‘grave reason’ which means you cannot continue in the marriage.

Note that women wishing to remarry after divorce must wait a period of six months before doing so.

Child custody, contact and support after divorce in Japan

When you divorce, a family court will decide which parent retains ‘parental authority’ (shinken) over any child under the age of 20.

In Japan, ‘parental authority’ includes both legal and physical custody, and this can only be given to one parent on divorce. There is no ‘joint custody’ option available, and no way for divorced parents to both maintain parental authority.

If you can’t agree on parental authority, the court will decide. The overall welfare of your child is the guiding principle, although custody is generally awarded to the mother unless there is a specific reason to award custody to the father.

The court will also decide on contact rights for the non-resident parent.

Factors the court will consider when making orders include:

  • Each parent’s capacity and means of raising the child. The includes your financial circumstances, your home environment etc.
  • Each parent’s relationship and bond with your child, and your desire to raise them
  • Your health status
  • Your child’s age (mothers are generally favoured for younger children)
  • The stability of your child’s environment and the likely impact of any changes.

Depending on your child’s age, their views and wishes will also be taken into account.

Both parents have a responsibility to support their child financially after divorce through child support (yoikuhi).

If you can’t agree on the level of child maintenance, the parent with custody can approach the family court for a petition for conciliation to demand support from the other parent. If you can’t agree the amount at mediation, the court will consider all aspects of the case and make a decision.

Japan became a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction in 2014. This means that you can access the help of a relevant authority of your child is taken to or from Japan without your consent.

However, as Japan has no enforcement mechanism to enforce foreign custody rulings and, as it does not recognise shared or joint custody, dealing with child abduction cases can be a difficult process.

Many Western countries have been critical of Japanese authorities in these matters, and there are countless cases of parents who have failed to have abducted children returned to their home country from Japan, or even obtain visitation rights.

How a financial settlement works after divorce in Japan

In Japan, the Civil Code includes a provision called the ‘duty to maintain standard of living’. This means that each spouse must help the other to maintain an equivalent standard of living.

During the marriage spouses have a duty to share their marital expenses and, while married, this division is agreed between you. Even when you separate it is expected that the spouse who earns more continues to support the other spouse.

After your divorce, there is no spousal maintenance obligation except for cases where alimony is considered at the point where the court determines how your property/assets should be split.

In terms of the division of your property, this can be done at the same time as the divorce, or up to two years after.

If you can’t agree between you, a request for mediation is normally made to help you to reach an agreement. If you can’t agree through mediation, the court will decide.

Property is divided under the Japanese Civil Code. This states that property that was acquired by either spouse during the marriage should generally be divided equally when the marriage ends. Exceptions include property owned by one party independently (for example, inheritances).

In addition, there may be a payment to the spouse who is economically weaker after the divorce (for example, to a spouse who gave up work to look after the home/children). Property is often divided to support the party who will be in the weaker position after divorce.

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