“Marriage is the tomb of life.” This quote from the French poet Baudelaire is often misunderstood as a nihilistic aphorism that views marriage as something distasteful. Recently, however, I learned that the quote originally meant that marriage was “a place to be united with a loved one, to spend a lifetime together, and to end one’s life.”
The divorce rate for international marriages in Japan is said to be over 50%. This figure indicates that a lot of patience is required for two people raised in different cultures to find shared values and remain married. In this article, I would like to write about the impact of divorce on the residence status of Japanese and non-Japanese internationally married couples.
Is a Change of Status of Residence Necessary?
Not all foreign nationals married to Japanese nationals have the residence status of “Spouse or Child of Japanese National.” Some may be married to a Japanese national while continuing to reside in Japan with a work-related status of residence tied to their employer, such as “Engineer/Humanities/International Services” or “Highly Skilled Professional.” In such cases, there is no impact on their status of residence itself in the event of divorce.
The problem arises when someone has the residence status of “Spouse or Child of Japanese National.” We here at Legal associates office Boston are often asked if it is possible to change the status to “long-term resident” (定住者). In the case of divorce from a Japanese spouse, there may be room to consider applying for a “long-term resident” permit. However, there are not any clearly set out requirements for the status “Long-Term resident caused by Divorce” （離婚定住）, and the application is not guaranteed approval.
In the case where a marriage has continued for at least three years, the circumstances leading to the divorce, the couple’s living situation, the presence or absence of children, and other factors will all be taken into account. The possibility of having an application for long-term resident status approved tends to increase in cases such as spousal domestic violence, spousal infidelity, or gambling debts. There have also been cases in which long-term resident status has been granted to those with children to care for, even if the marriage had lasted less than three years.
The above is a brief description of the possibility of obtaining the status o “Long-term resident caused by divorce” (離婚定住). However, there are cases where even getting an international divorce itself is complex. There are not many countries where divorce by mutual consent is granted as in Japan (i.e., without the need for court application/approval).
In principle, when a Japanese and a foreigner marry, the marriage procedure must be performed in both countries. This means you choose one country and follow the country’s law to get married and subsequently file an after-the-fact report to your spouse’s mother country.
(Note: Some countries may not accept an after-the-fact marriage report that has been completed if the couple does not reside in that country.)
For example, if a Japanese person marries a Filipino, the procedure for divorce will vary greatly depending on whether the marriage was conducted in the Japanese system or not. According to the Japanese system, you can get a divorce by consent if a Japanese person gets married to a Filipino.
By contrast, for example, Filipino-Filipino marriages in the Philippines are not subject to divorce procedures since the divorce system itself is not legally set in the Philippines. Divorce is not the option, and marriages can only be annulled. The annulment procedures are both time-consuming and costly. If the divorce between a Japanese national and a Filipino national was finalized in Japan, divorce by mutual consent is possible. If the divorce is validly finalized outside the Philippines with a foreign spouse, the Filipino citizen is eligible for remarriage under Philippine law. However, before remarriage under Philippine law can occur, a Philippine court must approve the foreign divorce.
Even though Japanese divorce procedures are much more straightforward, since you can only apply for long-term resident（定住者）status after the divorce is finalized, many will undoubtedly be placed in a very precarious situation. However, if you are already running a company or considering running a company/business, applying for “Business manager” status might be another option. If you find a job with an international business, supplying interpretation services, translation services, etc., it is advisable to consider the status of residence for which you could apply for, such as “Engineers/Specialists in Humanities/International services,” It is important to realize you may have alternative residency visa options and should not limit yourself to only applying for “Long-term resident” status.
Some people may be discouraged from getting divorced when they consider factors such as the impact of divorce on their status of residence or the difficulty of getting a divorce. It is a very sensitive issue, and it isn’t easy to know the correct answer.
We hope that our paid services will assist those at such a crossroads in their lives and trying to decide on the best steps to take moving forward.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
Text by: Masayo Boston (Certified Administrative Procedure Legal Specialist), July 2022
Legal Associates Office Boston (Fukuoka City)
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