By ATOM Legal Professional Corporation English speaking lawyers in Japan

About one in three Japanese marriages end in divorce, four times the divorce rate in Japan in the 1950s and double the rate in the 1970s. The divorce rate has only slowed in Japan due to fewer marriages taking place. Couples from different cultural backgrounds are especially susceptible to divorce in Japan, as it is said that as many as 40% of international marriages end in divorce. 

This article aims to explain the four methods of divorce in Japan in an easily digestible format.

1. Divorce by agreement (Kyōgi rikon)

90% of divorces are settled through divorce by agreement in Japan. With this method, involving a divorce lawyer or the family court is not necessary so long as the couple can come to an agreement to divorce and agree on the matters related to divorce (division of property, child custody, necessity of consolation money, etc.). 

The process can be finalized simply by submitting a designated divorce form (rikon todoke) to the local city hall. The couple must affix both their signatures and seals (inkan) to the form for it to be official. Technically, the foreign spouse does not need to be present when the form is filed so long as their signature and stamp have been affixed. 

Note that not all countries recognize divorce by agreement, so your home country may not acknowledge your divorce if performed in Japan.

2. Divorce by mediation (Chōtei rikon)

When the parties to a divorce are unable to reach an agreement, discontinue communication (are unable to have rational/calm discussions), or the cause of/reason for divorce is not legally recognized (Civil Code Article 770.1), this leads to the necessity of a method different from the divorce by agreement. This method involves a divorce lawyer.

Mediation services will be necessary whereby the couple can utilize one of the many family courts located nationwide in Japan. A judge or mediator will assist the parties in reaching an agreement. Once an agreement has been made, it will be documented in a record of mediation, which has enforceability identical to a court judgment. Upon reaching an agreement, the couple has 10 days to file the divorce registration together with the record of divorce mediation.

3. Divorce by decision of the family court (Shinpan rikon)

A less common method of divorce, the divorce by decision of the family court comes into effect when the couple agrees to a divorce but is unable to agree on the conditions of the divorce. This method involves a divorce lawyer. In this case, the decision is left to the divorce court, the family court. This method is used when divorce by mediation was ineffective. With this method, each party has the opportunity to file an objection to the divorce decision so long as the objection is filed within two weeks of the decision.

4. Divorce by litigation (Saiban rikon)

When a divorce cannot be established by the family court, divorce by litigation is the next option. This method involves a divorce lawyer. In this case, there must be a legal reason for the divorce. This divorce reason can come about when one party does not want to divorce or there is a dispute on the conditions of the divorce.

Article 770.1 of the Japanese Civil Code states the following grounds for divorce by litigation:

  1. Infidelity of a spouse,
  2. Malicious abandonment by a spouse,
  3. Uncertainty as to whether the spouse is alive or not for more than three years,
  4. Serious mental illness of a spouse with no possibility of recovery, or,
  5. Grave grounds which make a marriage unable to continue (e.g., family violence).

Going through a divorce in a foreign country isn’t easy. Now that you know the methods of divorce that you can use in Japan, get in contact with an English-speaking lawyer to avoid the legal consequences even small mistakes can bring about. Call 03-6868-8647 for a consultation, or contact us through our online contact form.

This page is intended to be used for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for obtaining professional legal advice. For advice from a lawyer, please call the number listed above.

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