Last week, a landmark amendment to Japan’s Civil Code saw the scrapping of ancient restrictions on women’s legal rights to their children and their ability to remarry after a divorce. The legislative changes, enacted on Saturday, December 17th, come after years of debate over a controversial 19th-century paternity law stating that a child born within 300 days of their mother’s divorce is presumed to belong to her ex-husband, regardless of his biological ties with the child or whether the mother had already remarried.
With the amendment, children born within 300 days of their mother’s divorce can now be legally recognized as the offspring of her new husband if she is remarried by the time of the child’s birth. However, the 300-day rule will still apply if the woman has not remarried by the time of giving birth.
Previously, only ex-husbands were allowed to enter arbitration in order to deny paternity of a child born within 300 days of their divorce. But under the revised laws, mothers and children will now be allowed to file paternity disputes. The eligibility period for filing such arbitration has also been extended from one year since knowing about the child’s birth to three years.
The Civil Code amendments, which will take effect in 18 months, aim to reduce the number of unregistered children in Japan. Since the law was introduced in 1896, many divorced women—especially those caught in domestic violence—have chosen not to register their children to avoid having their ex-husbands recognized as legal fathers.