Japan: In reversal, high court ditches ‘good parent rule’ that had granted dad custody of daughter




The Tokyo High Court on Thursday overturned a rare family court decision that had granted a father custody of his daughter because he was more inclined than his estranged wife to allow greater visitation, ruling the girl should keep living with her mother for the sake of continuity and because that is her wish.

The high court ruling came during an appeal trial regarding custody of the 9-year-old girl, whose parents have been living separately since the mother left and took the child with her in 2010.

“The daughter has been living with her mother, is growing up healthy and wants to continue living with her mother in the future,” presiding Judge Yoichi Kikuchi said. “Taking into account what is in the best interest of the daughter, it is reasonable that custody is awarded to the mother.”

The initial ruling handed down in March by the Chiba Family Court’s Matsudo branch attracted public attention because it applied the “good parent rule” — granting custody to the parent more inclined to allow greater visitation — and ordered the mother to hand over the girl to the father. The father had said he would allow his wife to see her daughter 100 days a year if he was given custody. The mother said she would allow him to see his daughter just once a month.

Thursday’s judgment was based on the principle of continuity, with the court stating that a child’s healthy development is not ensured just by seeing a separated parent.

“The number of days for visitation is not the only criteria to decide who has custody, and is less important compared with other conditions,” the court said.

“If the daughter, who is an elementary school student, goes back and forth between the parents’ houses for 100 days a year, it would be a physical burden and would affect her relationship with her school and her friends,” the court said, judging that visitation of once a month is appropriate.

The mother left her husband, taking her daughter with her, in May 2010 after the couple became estranged. The father has not seen the girl since September the same year.

The mother issued a statement after the ruling thanking the high court for supporting her claim.

The father said he would file an appeal. “The judgment cannot be forgiven, because it gives advantage to a parent who took away the child first,” he said.

“It is hard to believe the high court respected the child’s will,” said the father’s lawyer, Akira Ueno.

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