Japanese table tennis star reaches an agreement with ex as parliament considers a joint custody bill

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TOKYO — A once-beloved Japanese table tennis star said Friday she has reached a settlement with her ex-husband, a Taiwanese star in the sport, ending a high-profile battle over custody of their 4-year-old son.

The move comes at a time when Japan’s parliament is discussing legislation to introduce a dual custody system following similar high-profile custody cases brought by foreign husbands against Japanese women.

“From now on, I will cooperate with Mr. Chiang in raising our children,” Ai Fukuhara said at a news conference announcing that she and former husband Chiang Hung-chieh had reached an agreement on their son’s custody.

She bowed deeply and left without taking any questions, leaving her two lawyers to do so on her behalf, along with their counterparts representing Chiang.

Fukuhara has handed over their son to Chiang to live in Taiwan, where their daughter already is based, the lawyers said. The former couple have reached an agreement on joint custody and have worked out details for their son to spend time with his mother, Chiang’s Japanese lawyer Aiko Ohbuchi said. The lawyers declined to give further details.

The couple were divorced under Taiwanese law in July 2021 ending their five-year marriage. They agreed to share custody of their two children who had been living with Chiang. Fukuhara returned to Japan with the boy to spend the summer in 2022, but cut off contact with Chiang, refusing to bring the son back to Taiwan and triggering their custody battle.

Chiang, in a statement read by his lawyers, thanked the Japanese court for fair judgement and support by the people.

The settlement comes just as Japan’s Cabinet submitted a bill allowing joint custody for parliamentary approval. The move, however, has sparked opposition from women’s and other rights groups, saying the dual custody system would put victims of domestic violence by their partners at risk.

Unlike many other countries, Japan doesn’t currently allow legal dual custody of children for their divorced parents. Only one parent can take the children, though the other parent can gain visitation rights. In some cases, the parent with custody cuts off contact with the other one and in some others those without physical custody stop required child support payments.

Chiang, after winning a Taiwanese court decision, also obtained a Japanese court order for Fukuhara last July to immediately return the child to him. But Fukuhara took the boy to China, apparently to escape Japanese jurisdiction and avoid being compelled to hand over the child. Chiang’s subsequent filing of a criminal complaint accusing Fukuhara of child abduction eventually led to their settlement in December.

Ohbuchi, Chiang’s lawyer, said she was uncertain how the case could be resolved in Japan, where the concept of joint custody is not widely or appropriately understood.

She said the Japanese courts made a very appropriate and fair decision that is compatible with the Taiwanese decision and that the joint custody arrangement was possible even under Japan’s existing system.

The problem stems from Fukuhara’s refusal to bring the child back to the primary parent after the court-ordered visitation period ended, said Fukuhara’s lawyer Nao Sakai. “Prolonging the dispute was not desirable for the boy and it was good we could work out the settlement.”

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