Getting Divorced in Japan

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The number of international marriages in Japan has sky-rocketed in recent years and now nearly 40,000 international marriages occur each year in Japan. Unfortunately the number of international divorces has dramatically increased as well. Over 15,000 international marriages end in divorce each year.

★Who can get divorced in Japan?
Municipal offices are not allowed to accept –

  • divorce petitions of foreign residents when their countries of origin do not recognize a “divorce by agreement” (for example the Philippines).
  • a divorce petition between a couple of the same foreign nationality.
    – these petitions must be done through a family court.

When one partner is a Japanese national with a regular address in Japan or both partners are foreign nationals with different nationalities with regular addresses in Japan, the municipal office may accept the application for divorce.
Since every divorce case is different and depends on the nationalities involved, please consult your municipal office before hand.

★Types of Divorce in Japan

  • Divorce by agreement (kyōgi rikon 協議離婚), based on mutual agreement. The foreign spouse need not be physically present at the municipal office to register the divorce providing that the registration documents have been properly signed and sealed beforehand by both parties. More than 90% of all Japanese divorces adopt this fast, simple and entirely non-judicial procedure.
  • Divorce by mediation in a family court (chōtei rikon 調停離婚), completed by applying for mediation by the family court (for cases in which divorce by mutual agreement cannot be reached).
  • Divorce by decision of the family court (shimpan rikon 審判離婚), which is divorce completed by family court decision when divorce cannot be established by mediation.
  • Divorce by judgment of a district court (saiban rikon 裁判離婚). If divorce cannot be established by the family court, then application is made to the district court for a decision (application for arbitration is a prerequisite). Once the case is decided, the court will issue a certified copy and certificate of settlement, to be attached to the Divorce Registration.

★Grounds for Divorce
The Japan Civil Code Article 770, provides five grounds for unilateral divorce if divorce cannot be reached by mutual agreement:

  1. infidelity
  2. malicious desertion
  3. uncertainty whether or not the spouse is dead or alive for three years or more.
  4. serious mental disease without hope of recovery.
  5. a “grave reason” which makes continuing the marriage impossible.
  • Under Japan Civil Code Article 710, the plaintiff can demand the payment of consolation money (慰謝料 isha-ryō) and the distribution of property (財産分与 zaisan-bunyo). However in most cases the amounts of consolation money tends to be rather small, usually only a few million yen. If the defendant lacks financial means, the amount can be much lower.

★Documents to submit:
1. Notification of Divorce 離婚届けrikon todoke (in the case of kyōgi-rikon; paperwork available at and to be turned into the parties local municipal office) bearing the signatures and personal seals (inkan) of two adult witnesses.
2. Personal seal of the reporting person(s) – foreign spouses are exempted if they do not have one, the foreign spouse’s signature will serve).
3. If the reporting office is not the office of the permanent address of the Japanese partner, a copy or an extract of his or her family register (koseki tohon戸籍謄本).
4. Passport
5.Certificate of current address (juminhyō or Alien Registration Card)
6. Copy of marriage certificate if both parties are foreign nationals.
7. A registered copy of the birth certificate of any minor child the couple has if both parties are foreign nationals.

If both parties are not in agreement to the divorce, it is necessary to receive mediation and judgment by the Family Court (katei saiban-sho). If the court rules in favor for the divorce you should then submit a copy of the court ruling and the “Notification of Divorce” to your municipal office.

★Custody of Children
Following a divorce, a family court will determine which of the parents will maintain parental authority (shinken) over any minor children younger than 20 years of age (Article 766 of the Civil Code). If a foreign parent is designated parental authority, the parent may be granted visa status allowing them to raise the child/children in Japan.

The general practice is to award custody to the mother unless there is an overriding reason to award custody to the father. Nationality of the child is not considered crucial in the determination of which parent will assume custody. Joint custody is not recognized in Japan.

Japanese family law has no provision for visitation rights and has no legal mechanism to enforce visitation rights or other court-negotiated settlements afterwards. It is quite usual that upon divorce, the father pays nothing for the child’s support and that he never sees his child.

If an international divorce includes joint custody of the children, it is important to the foreign parent to register it themselves, because joint custody is not legal in Japan. The parent to register the divorce may thus be granted sole custody of the child according to Japanese law. A foreign child custody agreement cannot be automatically enforced in Japan, although the court can order enforcement.

For more information regarding Issues of Divorce and Child Custody in Japan see the Children’s Rights Council of Japan website –

★Qualification of Residence
Once a divorce is granted, the visa category “spouse of a Japanese” remains valid for the foreign spouse until the visa’s date of expiration. If you wish to remain in Japan after this period you will need to change your visa status; for example to that of a working visa or student visa etc. If the foreign spouse maintains parental authority over the minor child or children with Japanese nationality following the divorce, that spouse may apply for a “long term resident” visa (teijusha 定住者)

Marriage after Divorce
After the divorce is settled you are free to re-marry. However, women wishing to re-marry must wait a period of six months.

★English-speaking Lawyers in Aichi
A list of other English-speaking lawyers is available from the Nagoya International Center 3F Counter Tel: 052-581-0100.

◇The NIC and AIA also hold free legal consultations for foreign nationals

  • At the Nagoya International Center
    • When: Saturdays 10:00 – 12:30
    • Reservations: Leave your name & phone number on the answering machine at 052-581-6111. A counseling staff member will call you back at a later date to schedule an appointment with you. (Further info)
  • At Aichi International Association

    ◇Embassy Links

Those seriously considering divorce should consult an attorney or the nearest Family Court.

This article was updated for the June 2009 edition of the Nagoya Calendar

To learn more about the Nagoya International Center,
please watch our video.

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