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Divorce in Japan

Any divorce is a long and messy process. In Japan, however, the process is longer and messier. You will want to research your options, and you will want to retain a lawyer.

There are several types of divorce, each corresponding to an increasing level of time use, cost, and ill-will between spouses. Much of this is because of the system, which would rather see a family reunited, even under unfavorable conditions, than broken apart.

Frivolous reasons will thus result in largely unsuccessful divorce attempts. Simple “irreconcilable differences,” or seikaku no fuitchi (性格の不一致), is not enough for a divorce. Adequate reasons include sleeping around, or uwaki (浮気), criminal behavior, money issues, or sexless marriage — in the last case, the period of required sexlessness is far longer for women than men. Proofs of poor behavior are likely necessary. Some people resort to fabricating reasons in order to obtain a divorce, causing significant and unfair issues for the other party.

Child custody is another difficult battle, especially since there no visitation rights or custody sharing. Parents will often resort to bribing or poisoning children against other parents in order for the child to select the “right” parent. Mothers are favored, as are parents with existing custody of the children–some parents take children from the home and establish new homes to prove that children are better off than before.

Types of Divorce

Mutual Agreement

  • Uncontested Divorce or kyogi rikon (協議離婚).
  • You and your spouse both agree to divorce and agree on all terms for the divorce (child custody, etc.), sign the appropriate papers, and go your separate ways.

Mediated in Family Court

  • Mediated Divorce or choutei rikon (調停 離婚).
  • Either one person (you or your spouse) do not agree to a divorce or you cannot agree on terms for the divorce.
  • Mediators at the family court help you to discuss issues to help you patch up the relationship, find out who is at fault, and to find terms which you can agree upon.
  • Multiple mediations are most likely necessary and take place about once a month.
  • Both parties discuss their positions to the mediating panel and not directly to the other party.
  • The mediating panel consists of three people: a court representative and two “upstanding citizens,” or yuushikisha (有識者).
  • Mediators are usually older Japanese people and may have slight related biases against divorces, women, and foreigners.
  • If you feel a mediator is impartial, you can ask the court for a new mediator.
  • Mediations are meant to keep families out of busy courts and decisions are not legally binding.
  • Mediations are solved by generally assigning wrongdoing on the part of one partner.

Adjudicated by Family Court

  • Divorce by Adjudication or shimpan rikon (審判 離婚).
  • If parties cannot agree to terms, but do agree to divorce, the parties can have a judge decide on issues.
  • The court will investigate these issues, which most likely relate to parental rights, child custody, or expenses during the marriage.

Divorce by Trial

  • Several months to a year after mediation starts, and if an agreement cannot be created, you or your spouse can declare Not Satisfied or fu seiritsu (不成立) and apply to move to a district court for a judicial decision.
  • Divorce by trial is more difficult and complicated than family court. Some district courts will refuse to hear more frivolous divorces.
  • Officially, divorces are legal for the following reasons, courtesy of Debito:
    1) infidelity (futei na koui)
    2) malicious desertion (akui na iki)
    3) uncertainty whether or not the spouse is dead or alive (shoushi) for three years or more
    4) serious mental disease (seishinbyou) without hope of recovery, or
    5) a "grave reason" (juudai na jiyu) which makes continuing the marriage impossible
  • The court will issue a certification for the settlement to attach to the Divorce Registration.

How to Divorce

  1. Retain lawyers to help with the divorce.
  2. Agree to divorce (Mutual Agreement) — Quick.
  3. If divorce or terms cannot be agreed upon, move to Family Court (Mediated Divorce) for help discussing and finding agreeable terms — Can take up to several years.
  4. If divorce is agreed upon but terms terms cannot be agreed upon, and if parties have gone to Family Court, an adjudication (Adjudicated Divorce) can be applied for and issues decided upon, after an investigation.
  5. If Family Court fails to create a resolution, parties can apply to move to a District Court for a Trial (Divorce by Trial) — Expect a long, painful process.

After the Divorce

Go to the city office and obtain a Divorce Certificate. Several copies may be helpful later on, especially if you decide to marry again or immigrate to another country. A translation of this certificate can be found below.

Some Advice and Points to Consider

  • Because of the difficulties of divorce, a prenuptial agreement or contract can help save you some trouble, especially regarding custody of children or division of assets, and is particularly good for couples with significantly different backgrounds and assets.
  • Divorces in Japan can result in child abductions or false accusations of abuse. Be careful and try to avoid these issues.
  • If a parent removes the children from a home, effectively taking custody of the children before a divorce happens, this strengthens the custody fight in their favor.
  • Courts generally prefer to side with the mother or take the side of the Japanese national in international cases.
  • Japan has not signed the Hague Convention, an international agreement preventing parental abductions. Although it will likely sign in the future, Japan currently does not honor foreign custody agreements. If a Japanese parent abducts their children and brings them to Japan, Japanese courts will do little to help the foreign parent.
  • Alimony and other financial settlements can be created during divorces. Cheating partners can be forced to pay money for mental stress and other issues. If you are a third-party in a divorce, such as a spouse’s lover, the victimized spouse can force you to pay money as well, typically several hundred thousand to millions of yen.