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Divorce in Japan

Americans can get divorced in Japan.

There is no need to report your divorce to the Embassy or one of our Consulates and no requirement or procedure to do so.

Types of Divorce in Japan

There are four types of divorce in Japan:

  • Divorce by agreement (kyogi rikon), based on mutual agreement.
  • Divorce by mediation in a family court (chotei rikon), 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), which is divorce completed by family court decision when divorce cannot be established by mediation.
  • Divorce by judgment of a district court (saiban rikon). 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.

Divorce with Children

If a U.S. citizen parent is concerned that a current or former Japanese spouse may surreptitiously file a notification of divorce or declaration naming themselves as the sole custodian of the children, the U.S. citizen parent can file a Petition for Non-Acceptance of Notification of Divorce (rikon fujuri moshidesho) at the municipal office where the Japanese parent resides and/or where the Japanese parent’s permanent address (honsekichi) is located. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells the Embassy that this action will halt any submission of a divorce petition or recognition by Japanese authorities of a sole custody petition by of the Japanese parent.

The Limitations of U.S. Custody Orders in Japan

It’s important that a U.S. citizen parent divorcing locally understands that U.S. child custody court orders are not immediately effective in Japan. There are conditions that must be met before a foreign court judgment can be recognized in Japan. Sole custody orders from the United States are generally recognized in Japanese law as “formative judgments” (keisei hanketsu) that merely define a relationship and are not considered “judgments ordering performance” (kyufu hanketsu) that require performance or enforcement, such as requiring the return of a child to a U.S. parent’s custody. U.S. citizen parents may benefit from the assistance of a Japanese attorney in trying to get their U.S. court orders validated in Japan, though this is just the first step in a long process and does not guarantee a positive outcome.

FAQ Concerning Divorce and the Family Court System in Japan

This information has been prepared to assist American citizens who are considering divorce in Japan. This guidance is based upon an informal review of Japanese law and procedure. Those seriously considering divorce should consult an attorney or the nearest Family Court.

Check the Supreme Court of Japan website for information on the jurisdiction of the Japanese Family Court and its proceedings (provided by the Supreme Court of Japan).

Q: Can foreign citizens be divorced in Japan?

A: Yes. However, foreign citizens must show evidence that they are able to be divorced in their country of nationality and that the procedures used in Japan are compatible with those of their home country.

Q: What is a “Ward Office” divorce?

A: Japanese law allows for divorce either through the family court system or through a simple registration procedure at the ward office. Known in Japanese as “mutual consent divorce” (kyogi rikon), this ward office procedure can be faster and less expensive than going through the Family Court.

Q: Can Americans get a “Ward Office” divorce?

A: Since January 1, 1990 Japanese law has allowed “mutual consent divorce” in cases where at least one spouse is a Japanese national. Thus, “mutual consent divorces” between American citizens and their Japanese citizen spouses are now legal in Japan.
As with marriage registration, the American spouse need not be physically present at the ward office to register the divorce providing that the registration documents have been properly signed and sealed beforehand by both parties.

Be warned, however, that the United States has no procedure for extra-judicial divorce and the legality of this procedure in various states in the U.S. is uncertain.

Q: What is the main function of the Family Court?

A: Protect the welfare of minors, conciliate in marital difficulties, approve the dissolution of marriages, handle estates and inheritance.

Q: How do Americans file for divorce in Family Court?

A: The couple goes to the Family Court to register. Following this, one or more conciliation meeting will be held before a mediator and a judge. The aim of these consultations is to effect a reconciliation or, failing that, to arrange mutually agreeable terms for the dissolution of the marriage.

Q: What are the residency requirements for filing?

A: At least one of the parties must be a legal resident of Japan. The court will not accept cases from couples who have traveled to Japan for the sole purpose of obtaining a divorce.

Q: Can a divorce be granted in absentia?

A: While both parties do not need to be present to file and begin the procedures leading to a divorce, because of the nature of the conciliation process, the court will require the appearance by both parties for at least one joint hearing.

Q: Do the personnel of the Family Court speak English?

A: Many of the mediators and judges have English language ability. However, the court advises non-Japanese speakers to bring with them a person who can read and write Japanese to assist them in completing the registration forms. Parties may wish to bring their own translator to the hearings.

Q: Is a divorce granted by the Family Court valid in the U.S.?

A: A divorce legally granted in one country is generally recognized in the United States as long as the parties were present for the proceeding, at least one party was resident in the country of forum, and recognizing the divorce will not violate a strong public policy of the United States.

Q: How is the custody of children determined?

A: 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.

Q: What about enforcing child custody agreements?

A: A foreign child custody agreement cannot be automatically enforced in Japan, although the court can order enforcement. In the case of parental kidnapping from the U.S. to Japan, the custodial parent can apply through the court in Japan to require the return of the child to the United States.

Q: What documents are required to make an application for divorce?

A: The application form (available gratis from the Family Court) and the following supplementary documents. All English language documents must be translated into Japanese.

  • Copy of marriage certificate.
  • Abstract of United States state law pertaining to divorce. (The Martindale-Hubble Law Digest, available at Japan’s National Diet Library provide an abstract of each United States state divorce law. A copy of the page of that volume pertaining to the U.S. citizen’s particular state, with a translation, meets this requirement.)DivorceNet
    Cornell University: State Law
  • A copy of certificate of alien registration for non-Japanese parties.
  • Revenue stamps: 1200 yen
    Postage stamps: Check with each family court for the return postage.

If the couple has a minor child, the birth certificate of the child must be presented. The court may also request copies of the birth certificates or passports of the parties to the divorce. Japanese citizens must normally present a copy of family register and certificate of residence (juminhyo).

Divorce in the U.S.

Divorces in the US are granted by states, and so the requirements, costs, complexities and time vary among all fifty jurisdictions. You will need to hire an attorney who practices in the state you wish to divorce in.

However, if you want at an early stage just some background information on a state-by-state basis, you may wish to visit Divorce Source website. You must consult an attorney before proceeding, or if you have questions about what you read online.

For More Information

More detailed information in Japanese can be provided by any branch of the Family Court. A listing of the addresses and phone numbers of the Family Courts follows. Further information can also be obtained from Japanese attorneys.

You can find our list of attorneys here.

Family Courts

Check the Supreme Court of Japan website for the complete list of family courts in Japan (the list in Japanese only).

Check the Supreme Court of Japan website for the list of family courts with 24 hour automated information service by phone and fax (service in Japanese only).

Aomori Family Court
1-3-26 Nagashima, Aomori-shi 030-8523
Telephone: (017) 722-5351

Fukuoka Family Court
1-7-1 Otemon, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi 810-8652
Telephone: (092) 711-9651

Nagoya Family Court
1-7-1 Sannomaru, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi 460-0001
Telephone: (052) 223-3411

Naha Family Court
1-14-10 Higawa, Naha-shi 900-8603
Telephone: (098) 855-1000

Osaka Family Court
4-1-13 Otemae, Chuo-ku, Osaka 540-0008
Telephone: (06) 6943-5321

Sapporo Family Court
12 Chome, Odori Nishi, Sapporo 060-0043
Telephone: (011) 221-7281

Sendai Family Court
1-6-1 Katahira, Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi 980-8637
Telephone: (022) 222-4165

Tokyo Family Court
1-1-2 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8956
Telephone: (03) 3502-5888

Tokyo Family Court – Tachikawa Branch
10-4 Midoricho, Tachikawa-shi, Tokyo 190-8589
Telephone: (042) 845-0317

Yamaguchi Family Court
1-6-1 Ekidori, Yamaguchi-shi 753-0048
Telephone: (083) 922-1330

Yokohama Family Court
1-2 Kotobuki-cho 1-chome, Naka-ku, Yokohama Shi 231-8585
Telephone: (045) 681-4181

Yokohama Family Court – Yokosuka Branch
3 Tadodai, Yokosuka-shi 238-0015
Telephone: (046) 825-0569

Yokohama Family Court – Sagamihara Branch
6-10-1 Fujimi, Chuo-ku, Sagamihara-shi 252-0236
Telephone: (042) 755-8682