Shigo Rikon – Do the Japanese get divorced after death?

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To file for a divorce in Japan, both parties, husband and wife, have to agree to the process. However, if one of the parties dies, the widower can file a lawsuit known as shigo rikon (死後離婚 lit.: "Divorce after death").

Such a process is becoming more and more common in Japan, especially with women who, in most cases, no longer want to have any kind of relationship with the parents of the deceased spouse, as it is known that the widower (a) has the legal obligation to care for their aged in-laws.

How does posthumous divorce work?

If you want to break ties with your in-laws, you only need to fill out an official form. The form asks for your personal details and personal details of the deceased spouse.

In-laws have no way of interfering in this matter, nor do they receive an official notice of divorce after the fact. And a widow (o) may file this termination report at any time after the death of a wife. There is no waiting period or deadline for your submission.

Shigo rikon - do the Japanese divorce after death?

Although this process is not new, it is only nowadays that the Japanese are opting for Shigo Rikon because due to social pressures, it was not customary to opt for this type of procedure.

According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Justice, the number of posthumous divorces grew only very gradually until 2013 (April 2013 to March 2014), when 2,167 forms were sent.

The number of forms increased modestly to 2,202 in fiscal 2014, but jumped over 550 to 2,783 the following year, and at the end of 2016 it reached 4,032, an increase of nearly 50%.

Shigo Rikon and the Traditional View

Since Japan has been an agricultural country for much of its history, these traditional views come from villages where agricultural culture had a collectivist bent.

Until the second half of the 20th century, most of the Japanese population were farmers and ranchers. When a woman got married, she practically ceased to be part of her family and became part of her husband's family and vice versa.

When the spouse died, the other surviving party had a legal obligation to care for their in-laws after the husband/wife died.

Shigo rikon - do the Japanese divorce after death?

This legal obligation was included in the Civil Code of Japan at the end of the 19th century, after the Meiji Restoration. However, this system was revoked after the Second World War, in force of the New Constitution.

It was after the Second World War that it became possible to break marital ties even with the death of the spouse.

Shigo Rikon and the present day

These legal provisions included in pre-war Japan were abolished after World War II. But the thinking behind them remains embedded in the minds of older Japanese people today.

However, industrialization caused the youth of the time to migrate to more urban areas. As a consequence, another lifestyle was adopted, directly affecting this traditional view.

It has now become common for women to take up jobs outside the home. Many wives continue to work after marriage, as do their husbands. Thus, they help to support the family financially, even maintaining the house and educating the children.

This family style where both parents work is very demanding. Therefore, one does not have many financial and emotional conditions to support the in-laws of the deceased spouse.

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