Prenuptial agreements are not common in Japan. They have never been a part of Japanese culture, even for the upper classes. The Act on the General Rules of Application of Laws (Ho no tekiyo ni kansuru tsusoku-ho) authorizes spouses who marry in Japan to choose which matrimonial law regime will govern their marriage, provided it is either the law of the country of either spouses nationality or habitual residence or, regarding immovables, the law of the location of the immovables. The Law also specifies that prenuptial agreements are valid when made under the provisions of a foreign law, and sets forth a provision for registration of foreign prenuptial agreements in Japan.
The Japanese Civil Code also contains important provisions that authorize prenuptial agreements. Article 755 provides that, “The property rights and duties of a husband and wife shall be prescribed by the following subsections, unless they entered into a contract setting forth otherwise, regarding their property before giving notification of the marriage.” Article 756 provides in essence that registration is needed in order to bind third parties but not in order to bind the spouses themselves.
Forum selection clauses are widely upheld by Japanese courts. Their validity in prenuptial agreements that preclude the jurisdiction of Japanese courts will likely be upheld if (a) the matter in question is not within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Japanese courts and (b) the court designated by the agreement would have jurisdiction over the matter in question, independently, under the law applicable in that forum.
While a prenuptial agreement may determine the choice of the marital regime it is uncertain whether terms concerning other matters would be upheld in Japan. The issue often arises with regard to terms that purport to reduce or eliminate future alimony (spousal maintenance) obligations. Alimony per se cannot be awarded in Japan but clients often want a Japanese contract to handle the issue of alimony in the event that a divorce is sought in a court outside Japan. Similar questions arise as to terms designed to limit the inherent power of a court in Japan to make awards to protect the financial wellbeing of a spouse.
It seems to be well accepted in Japan that any prenuptial agreement will be subject to potential review for compliance with Japanese public policy.
Our office has worked on several U.S. – Japan prenuptial agreements, always collaborating with local counsel in all jurisdictions as appropriate.
Disclaimer: We are admitted to practice only in New York but work as appropriate with lawyers throughout all U.S. states and throughout the world.