Factsheet, pg 2

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JAPAN ADOPTION PROCEDURE: Prospective adoptive parents may find children available for adoption either through the CGC or private parties such as missionaries, social welfare organizations, or adoption agencies. It is important to remember that the CGC will only issue a certificate identifying a "child who requires protection" if the adoption is arranged through them. If the adoption is arranged privately, the adoptive parents must present the appropriate statement of release for emigration and adoption to prove the child is adoptable. Even if the Japanese government certifies a child as requiring protection or considers a child legally adoptable, however, it is possible that the child may still not meet the U.S. definition of an orphan.

Child requirements: Japanese law does not define an orphan. Rather, a "child who requires protection" is defined as:

  • A child born out of wedlock;
  • An abandoned infant;
  • A child whose parent(s) has/have died or disappeared;
  • A child whose parents are incapable of providing support; or
  • An abused child.

The Child Guidance Center (CGC) is the local government authority responsible for determining whether a child requires protection. The CGC may issue a certificate to a "child who requires protection," but only if the child has been placed under the care of the child welfare authorities. The CGC will not issue a certificate if the child is to be adopted abroad or if the child will benefit from a privately arranged adoption.


Under Japanese law, an adoptable child is any minor who has been irrevocably released for adoption by its sole surviving parent, by a legal guardian, by both parents (if both parents are living and remain married), by the natural mother (in the case of an out-of-wedlock birth), or by the institution that has custody of the child. If the child is not Japanese, the Family Court with jurisdiction over the adoption will consider an adoptable child to be any child who has met the pre-adoption requirements of the child's country of nationality. The surviving parent has the legal capacity to transfer custody of the child to a second party by signing a "statement of release of orphan for emigration and adoption." If the surviving natural parent is a minor (i.e. under 20 years old), then the natural parent's parent or guardian must also sign a similar statement.

Once a child has been identified, the adoptive parents may apply to adopt the child through the local Family Court. When an adoption involves at least one foreign citizen - either parent or child - the Family Court applies the home country law of the foreign party. For U.S. citizen adoptive parents, the Court will consider the law governing inter-country adoptions in the parent(s)' state of legal domicile. When the child is non-Japanese, the Family Court decides whether the case meets the pre-adoption requirements of the child's home country. If, for example, the home country adoption law requires a third party or home country government authority to approve or consent to the child's adoption, the Family Court requires this approval.

Under Japanese law, a child can be adopted in one of two ways: regular and special.Regular adoption, with or without the court's consent- if the minor child is a descendant of one of the adoptive parents, the City Office may register a regular adoption without the Family Court's consent. If the child is not a lineal descendant of the adoptive parents, the Family Court must adjudicate the adoption before the City Office will legally register the adoption decree. Unlike a special adoption, this procedure does not necessarily sever the child's ties, rights, and privileges with regard to the birth parent(s) and any prior adoptive parent(s).

When the child and adoptive parents are not blood relatives, the adoptive parents must petition the Family Court with jurisdiction over the child's residence in Japan. After reviewing the documents, the Court informs the adoptive parents of the date of their court hearing. Typically, the Court will schedule the first hearing at the end of a trial six-month period. (Note: Although the six-month trial period normally begins when the parents file the adoption application, the Court will occasionally include any previous periods of cohabitation towards the six-month requirement.) During this trial period, the court-appointed investigator visits the family's home an average of three times, observing the interaction between the parents and the child. On the designated date, the child, the prospective parents, and the court-appointed investigator must attend a hearing in front of the judge. In most cases, the Court requires only one hearing, but the judge may call for additional hearings if necessary. Approximately two to three weeks after the final hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to approve the adoption. If the judge approves the petition, the Court issues a certificate allowing "Permission to adopt" (yoshi to suru koto o kyoka-suru). The adoptive parents must then register the adoption at the City or Ward Office. If the natural parents or any interested parties do not object within two weeks of the registration, the adoption is considered final.

Regular adoptions in Japan do not fully sever ties between the adopted child and the biological parents. For example, Japanese inheritance law recognizes that a child adopted in a regular adoption may still have inheritance rights from the biological parents. In addition, regular adoptions can be easily dissolved. Thus, a regular adoption may not permanently create the distinctly new family relationship envisioned by most American adoptive parents. If the adopted child later obtains U.S. citizenship and abandons Japanese nationality, the legal effect on the child's ties to the biological parents is unclear.

Special Adoption- As in U.S. adoptions, this procedure severs the child's ties, rights, and privileges with regard to the birth parent(s) and any prior adoptive parent(s). In 1988, Japan introduced the special adoption to make Japanese adoptions more compatible with international adoptions and to give more protection to adopted children under six years of age. Special adoptions appear to comply more fully with the provisions of Sections 101(b)(1)(E) and (F) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that: "no birth parent or prior adoptive parent of any such child thereafter, by virtue of such parentage, be accorded any right, privilege, or status."

Prospective parents filing for a special adoption should be aware of the following guidelines:
1) The child must be under the age of six at the time the adoption petition is filed OR under the age of eight and must have been placed under the continuous care and custody of the prospective adoptive parents since before the child's sixth birthday.
2) Two adoptive parents must jointly consent to the adoption. Single parents may only pursue a special adoption with the Family Court's consent.
3) One of the adoptive parents must be over 25 years of age and the other must be over 20 years old.
4) All persons with legal custody of the child, including the natural and adoptive parents, must consent to the adoption, EXCEPT IF:
a) The natural parents are incapable of declaring their intent;
b) Family Court rules that the natural parents have treated the child with "cruelty;"
c) The natural parents have abandoned the child; or
d) Any other cause "seriously harmful to the benefits of the person to be adopted" exists.
5) The child must be in the custody of, and residing with, the adoptive parents for at least six months before the Family Court will render a final judgement and issue an adoption decree.

Once the judge renders his decision, the Court waits two weeks to give the biological mother or interested third parties a chance to make any last plea. At the end of the two weeks, the Court considers the adoption final and issues the adoption decree (tokubetsu yoshito-suru). In a special adoption, the adoptive parents are not required to register the adoption at the city or ward office. As long as the special adoption remains intact, the child retains no inheritance rights with regard to the biological parents. Unless the Family Court rules to dissolve the special adoption, the adopted child and adoptive parent(s) cannot legally be separated.

Japanese birth and adoption records-civil records in Japan are reliable and maintained by the City or Ward office. The Japanese extract of the family register (koseki shohon) generally contains all current information that might otherwise be available in separate birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, or death records. In a special adoption, the koseki shohon only shows the name of the adoptive parents, as if they were the natural parents. In a regular adoption, both the natural and adoptive parents' names appear on the child's koseki shohon.

Non-Japanese children born in Japan must have a consular report of birth issued by their country of nationality's embassy. A non-Japanese child born in Japan does not automatically acquire Japanese nationality. Occasionally, a non-Japanese child is stateless and therefore unable to obtain a consular report of birth. Stateless children may apply for a "certificate of acceptance of notification of birth" (shussei todoke juri shomeisho) at the City or Ward office with jurisdiction over where the child is born. The municipal office only maintains this type of record for ten years.

Evidence of a full and final Japanese adoption may take one of two basic forms. In regular adoptions where the Family Court gives permission to adopt, the certificate of "permission to adopt" together with the child's family register showing the adoption, serves as proof of legal adoption. In special adoptions were the Family Court grants the adoption, the final adoption decree issued by the Court serves as proof of legal adoption.

When one or both of the adoptive parents is Japanese, that parent must enter the adoption on his/her family register. This record also serves as proof of a valid adoption. The final court decree and the family register should ultimately reflect both the child's natural and adoptive identities. In order for the child to qualify for U.S. immigration benefits, the Family Court adoption decree and the family register showing the adoption must include the name of at least one U.S. citizen adoptive parent who petitions for the child.

Registering for Japanese Adoption-adoptive parents may need to register the adoption with the municipal office in order to complete the adoption. If registration is required, the adoptive parents must submit their marriage certificate, birth certificates (for themselves and the adopted child), passports, alien registration cards, the Family Court's final adoption decree or certificate of "permission to adopt," and a completed registration application to the City or Ward Office. The natural parents (or the child's pre-adoption legal guardian) and two adult witnesses must also sign the registration application. Registration is usually final soon after applying.

Credits: U.S. Department of State

To see local Japan Adoption resources, please select a location (U.S. only):


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