Letters from Japan: “My American Husband Is Cheating On Me. I Want A Divorce.”
Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered
Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to email@example.com with the subject "Ask Hilary."
I’m a Japanese woman in my late 30s, married to an American man for 11 years. We have no children, and both work full time (he teaches English, I work in an office). Recently I learned that he is cheating on me with another Japanese woman. Our marriage was happy, I thought. Last year he said he was having heart problems, so we stopped having sex. He is always tired and works very late, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with our marriage until I saw his messages to this other woman. He had cheated before when we were dating, but he was young at the time and I forgave him. He said he would stop seeing her, but I don’t trust him anymore. I loved him, but I think I have had enough. I talked to my friends about divorce, but they are housewives and think it isn’t a good idea for my future. What do you think is my best choice? – Tired Of This
Dear Tired Of This,
My short answer: divorce him! Honestly speaking, it is regrettable that you even married him in the first place, but as we all know, we never get married thinking it won’t work. People might claim to change, but cheating is not something that I could forgive, nor do I recommend forgiving it unless in extreme circumstances (which are overall very unlikely).
My longer answer though, took more thought. You said that you don’t trust him, and that you have had enough. I can understand that completely. I’ve been in that situation before, and know it’s not an easy decision to come to. Therefore I want you to make sure that you aren’t going to regret your decision in the future; that may be what your friends were trying to express.
According to specialists, one of the reasons that divorce is more prevalent now is that women aren’t financially dependent on their husbands anymore. A woman can go out, get a job, and fully support herself – which is something that in our parents’ generations simply wasn’t possible, or even tolerated in some societies.
I loved him, but I think I have had enough.
If you’ve given it some thought and still feel that divorce is your best option, then make sure to take care of yourself and your needs. Don’t just rush out and file the papers with your ward office right away, hoping for a quick resolution. Make sure that you plan your exit of this marriage well enough and that you will secure your safety and stability.
You said that you work full time and don’t have children, so you are already in a good position to transition out of this marriage. My first suggestion is to get yourself either a family court lawyer or contact an agency that specializes in divorce. They can help you through the documentation needed, and help you to work through any issues that may arise. Your local ward office will have specialists in this area, or you can find lawyers through services like Legal Mall which is a Japanese law service that provides free consultations and hosts articles on issues like divorce.
Common things you will need to sort out are who retains your home (often based on who the property was rented by initially or who is making the mortgage payments), bank accounts and other financial documents (do you have your own bank accounts or a joint account? Shared credit cards? Any debt?) and dividing up shared property (household furnishings, etc). If you can get all that sorted out, and the paperwork filled, then you’ll be ready for the next part of your life in no time.
As you are surely aware, there are four types of divorce in Japan, but the fastest and most commonly used is “divorce by agreement” (協議離婚, kyogi rikon), which means that you and your husband mutually agree to divorce. In this case, your husband doesn’t need to be present for you to file the papers with the ward office, as long as you both have filled out and signed all the necessary documents in advance. If your husband isn’t a strong Japanese speaker, he may need to find someone to advise him on how to fill out the paperwork, but the burden for that falls on him.
Given that you have proof of his infidelity, you have every right to demand a divorce according to Article 770 of the Japan Civil Code, and if he refuses, you can take the matter to family court for a divorce by mediation (調停離婚, chotei rikon), by decision (審判離婚, shinpan rikon), or district court judgment (裁判離婚, saiban rikon). This is why I strongly recommend talking to a divorce specialist — you need to be prepared for any possible situation that can arise.
Ending a long term relationship or marriage is never a smooth, simple process — you will doubt yourself, you will feel hurt and angry both at your partner and at yourself, and it can feel like you’re doing more harm than good by going through the process. I know it’s not a decision that anyone comes to lightly. But you shouldn’t feel tied down or obligated to anyone that hurts you. Do what is going to make you the happiest in the long term. Best of luck.