Unlike most countries, divorce in Japan is easy for a married couple whose marriage is registered in Japan. If the divorce is not contested, the couple can simply fill out and sign a notice of divorce (rikon todoke), have two witnesses also sign the notice, and file the notice with their local city or ward office. No court proceedings are required, and the couple can even decide which spouse will get custody of any children in the notice.
Unfortunately, the ease of filing for divorce also means that the system can be easily abused. A notice of divorce can be filed by either spouse, making it easy for a disgruntled spouse to forge signatures and file a fraudulent notice without the other spouse’s knowledge. A disgruntled spouse may also file a notice of divorce that was previously signed by the other spouse after the other spouse changes his or her mind and no longer consents to the filing. Once a notice is filed, the divorce is considered final and the only recourse is to seek an invalidation of the divorce (kyougi rikon no mukou soshou) from the family court, a process that can involve significant time and expense.
For this reason, we recommend that clients who suspect that a notice of divorce may be filed by their spouse without their knowledge or consent preemptively file an application to prevent the filing of a notice of divorce (rikon tokode fujuri moushide). The application can be submitted to your local city or ward office and effectively prevents either spouse from filing a notice of divorce. The consent of your spouse is not required. Once the application is filed, the filing spouse must personally revoke the application for either spouse to file a notice of divorce.
This application is an iron-clad defense against fraudulent and unconsented to divorce filings in Japan, but there are a number of other recommendations we generally make to clients nearing a potential divorce. First, we recommend that you consult Jackson Sogo or another appropriate advisor to discuss your options and strategies for achieving the best result in your particular situation. Once a notice of divorce is filed, the divorce is final and you will lose any bargaining power you may have had before filing. Often times, it is best to condition the filing of a notice of divorce on the execution of a divorce agreement setting forth, among other things, how assets will be divided in the divorce. These agreements are typically much more difficult to secure after a notice of divorce has been filed, so we strongly recommend that you hold off on filing a notice of divorce until you have consulted with a specialist such as Jackson Sogo and arrived at a strategy for moving forward.
Second, we recommend that clients who ultimately decide to file a notice of divorce avoid signing the notice in advance and personally travel to their local city or ward office to sign and file the notice with their spouse. Many people make the mistake of signing a notice of divorce in advance only to find that the notice is then hijacked by their spouse and used to gain leverage in the marriage or as a bargaining chip to obtain better terms of divorce. This situation can be remedied with the filing of the application to prevent the filing of a notice of divorce discussed above, but it is better to avoid this situation entirely, whenever possible.
Please contact us at Jackson Sogo if you have any questions about divorce in Japan.
* Jackson Sogo (www.jacksonsogo.com) is a Japanese gyoseishoshi law office offering a wide range of Japanese corporate, immigration, employment, labor, and family law services to clients in native English. This article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Copyright Jackson Sogo. All rights reserved.