http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/04/17/issues/two-years-japan-signed-hague-children-returned-old-issues-remain/#.VyUeVGNlnVo

Two years after Japan signed Hague, children have been returned but old issues remain
BY COLIN P.A. JONES
APR 17, 2016

‘What brand of Champagne did you drink?”

The lawyer delivered the question with a dramatic flourish, and I suppose it was a reasonable question to ask, even if rhetorically. I was being cross-examined as an expert witness in a child custody-related trial in a Western courtroom. One parent wanted to relocate to Japan with the child, the other was objecting.

This was 2015. In a 2008 Japan Times column written about a rumor that Japan was preparing to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, I had declared: “I do not plan to crack open any Champagne until an abducted child is actually returned home.” The rumor proved wildly premature, but Japan ultimately ratified the convention, which, together with a package of baroque implementing laws and regulations, came into effect from April 2014.

The question about my Champagne preferences (Veuve Clicquot, by the way, if anyone is buying) was reasonable as a challenge to my reliability as an expert, yet was arguably irrelevant to the issue at bar: What could the court expect in terms of preserving the relationship between the child and the left-behind parent after the other parent and their child relocated to Japan? Unfortunately, “Not very much” may still be the answer.

But first, credit where it is due: In the two years since Japan signed the convention, more children abducted to or unlawfully retained in Japan have been returned to their home countries than at any time in the past. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s “central authority” for convention purposes, has handled almost 200 applications for assistance, and returns have been achieved in both directions (see table).

The Foreign Ministry has put significant effort into implementing the treaty and performing its central authority role. (A ministry representative also kindly responded to my inquiries in connection with this column.) It has sought to deter abductions through awareness programs, as well as foster amicable resolutions to abduction and visitation disputes by supporting mediation programs specifically designed for convention cases. (I am a mediator for one of them.) It also provides financial assistance for the translation of court documents and has set up a special online system (named Mimamori) for supervised cross-border “virtual visitation.”

Amicable resolutions are great, but there is not always much amity left between parents when one of them unilaterally spirits the children away to another country. Sometimes fear of abuse is a factor, but not always. Sometimes it is not; sometimes the taking parent is just trying to erase the other parent from his or her life, which necessitates erasure from the children’s lives as well. Having spent over a decade watching countless cases like these transpire, I believe that intentionally denying a parent — a former spouse, or life partner at that — a loving relationship with his or her child may be the worst thing one human being can do to another, short of physical violence. It is rarely good for the child, either.

The Hague Convention makes this harder by requiring that children taken or retained across borders in violation of custody rights be returned to their home country (where the other parent is typically also resident). Returns are the rule, but there are exceptions. One of these is if the child is living in Japan with the consent of the other parent. Disputes over relocation during or after divorce also being common, a child may also end up living in Japan with one parent through the permission of a foreign court.

When Japan was not a convention signatory, it was a red flag to foreign judges whenever a parent sought leave to take the children to Japan, whether to visit or live. “Just taking the kids back for the summer to see Grandma” and then staying is a pretty common abduction scenario everywhere (with Grandma sometimes playing a role in persuading the parent to stay). In Japan it was almost always a successful strategy — one that would frustrate whatever a judge in the country of origin might have decided about the child custody arrangements. Now, this type of “abduction by retention” should result in a Japanese court issuing a return order.

With Japan having joined the treaty, parents and foreign judges alike may now feel more secure about the idea of a child being brought here to live. Yet if that happens with the consent of the other parent or permission of a foreign court, a return order will then be difficult — if not impossible — to obtain. While judges in American states may be accustomed to retaining jurisdiction over children taken to another state and being able to enforce their rulings on custody, this probably won’t work with a child taken to Japan; if the scenario does not constitute an “abduction,” parents will likely be left to seek relief in Japanese family courts outside the convention framework, and they should lower their expectations accordingly.

Judges still finding their way

First, conversations with lawyers indicate that even in abduction cases that clearly fall under the convention, the Osaka and Tokyo family courts charged with resolving them are still figuring things out. Family court judges are likely accustomed to resolving domestic cases without being constrained by the rules of evidence and procedure that should apply in Hague cases.

At the same time, however, such cases are supposed to be resolved more expeditiously, despite involving complex issues such as the interpretation of foreign law: What do “rights of custody” mean in Country X, for example? (There is an international network of “Hague judges” in which Japanese judges participate, but apparently not to the extent of using it as an informal source of information on foreign law and practice in specific cases.) Similarly, which party has the burden of proving what — a parent’s consent, for example? And what if a parent or foreign court’s permission to relocate to Japan with a child is based on the relocating parent’s promise of cooperation with visitation — a promise that is immediately broken after getting off the plane?

Some of my lawyer interlocutors complain about a lack of procedural clarity. Perhaps this is a matter of time and more cases will resolve these issues.

Mixed messages on visitation

Second, visitation in Japan remains patchy and difficult to enforce. The convention provides for facilitation of cross-border access (aka visitation) but with limited substance. While the Foreign Ministry offers support, it is just that — support, such as contacting the other parent and offering online visitation and mediation. Such support has reportedly resulted in visitation in some cases, and even led to a few instances of children being returned.

If cooperation is not forthcoming, however, the parent seeking visitation is left seeking recourse in family courts, pretty much like everyone else. Here the stories I hear seem have not changed dramatically: parents going for months without seeing their children, mediation sessions where nothing seems to happen, judges who seem unduly solicitous of parents engaging in alienating behavior, and courts making decisions based on expediency rather than the best interests of children.

There are some signs of changes: Courts seem to be awarding visitation more, and I hear more about overnight stays, though recent judicial statistics show them occurring in less than 10 percent of cases. Also, in a December 2014 decision, the Fukuoka Family Court transferred legal custody of a child from mother to father due to the former’s obstruction of visitation. Only last month, the Matsudo branch of the Chiba Family Court ordered a mother to hand over her daughter to the father after years of blocking contact between the two. Japanese family court professionals have long written about the “good parent rule” — giving custody to whichever is more understanding of visitation with the other — as a remedy for such intransigence, but these are the first instances I have seen of it actually being applied.

Yet such developments should be treated with caution. Seemingly revolutionary decisions have to survive appeals and be enforced to be truly meaningful. In the Fukuoka case, only legal custody was transferred, something that can be accomplished simply by filing the judgment with the family registry; it does not automatically equate with the father getting contact, only the mother needing to seek his cooperation to take legal acts like applying for a passport on their child’s behalf.

As for the other case, branch family courts have long been the dumping ground for judges disfavored by the judicial hierarchy, meaning the Chiba case could be an anomaly as much as a harbinger of true change. Even the family courts’ increased acceptance of visitation seems to be tied to growing use of supervised visitation through NPOs staffed by (surprise!) retired family court personnel. In other countries supervised visitation is limited to cases where a parent is abusive or potentially dangerous; in Japan it seems to be becoming the easy-to-award/recommend default solution for when the custodial parent is intransigent.

Visitation thus still seems to be driven by what the custodial parent can be convinced to agree to, rather than what might be meaningful for the child. The Foreign Ministry’s Mimamori online supervised visitation system seems to be an extension of this logic: that any contact is better than none, and might lead to something more meaningful (which is sometimes the case). Understandably, some parents who have done no wrong yet are expected to accept being treated like criminals in order to interact with their own children find this abhorrent.

Lack of enforcement — and details

Third, an order from a Japanese court to return a child, whether across the street or to another country, can often still be frustrated by a parent simply refusing to comply, or getting the child to refuse. This is said to have already been an issue in convention cases, which should not surprise anyone: Before the treaty came into force, the nation’s shikkōkan — the bailiffs who enforce civil judgments — announced that it would likely be impossible to enforce return orders without the child’s cooperation. While the process of implementing the Hague Convention has brought some clarity to the theory and practice of enforcing returns, without sanctions for contempt (which Japanese judges lack in these cases) or other police-like powers to back them up, court orders can end up being meaningless pieces of paper.

Fourth, and finally, after two years and a number of cases, the workings of Japan’s Hague courts remain invisible. No judgments have been published, nor do there appear to be any statistics available on case resolutions. There is no way for outsiders to know how Japanese courts are deciding whether or not to return children.

At least I can drink some Champagne (Moet & Chandon is fine too): Japan did join the convention, and lawyers tell me it is having a real effect in deterring abductions. Yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that the convention’s potential remains limited by the constraints of the Japanese family justice system as a whole. Describing those requires more words than a single column allows, so keep watching this space.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone. Law of the Land appears on the second Monday Community Page of the month. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

(April 1, 2014, to March 31, 2016) APPLICATIONS FOR HELP WITH RETURNS APPLICATIONS FOR HELP WITH VISITATION
APPLICATIONS TO MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS RELATING TO CHILDREN IN JAPAN (AND THE FOREIGN COUNTRY INVOLVED)
U.S. 11
France 4
Australia 4
Germany 3
Canada 2
U.K. 2
Singapore 1
Italy 1
Spain 1
Russia 1
Switzerland 1
Belgium 1
Sri Lanka 1
Turkey 1
Fiji 1
Colombia 1
South Korea 1
U.S. 39
U.K. 6
France 5
Australia 4
Canada 4
New Zealand 3
Singapore 3
Mexico 2
Germany 1
Costa Rica 1
Subtotal 37
Rejected* 8
Total 45
Subtotal 68
Rejected* 7
Total 75
APPLICATIONS TO MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS RELATING TO CHILDREN IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES
Thailand 6
Russia 4
Brazil 4
South Korea 3
U.S. 3
Germany 2
Canada 2
France 1
U.K. 1
Italy 1
Spain 1
Switzerland 1
Slovakia 1
South Africa 1
Peru 1
Romania 1
Sri Lanka 1
Belarus 1
Sweden 1
U.S. 5
Russia 3
Canada 3
Germany 2
Ukraine 2
Thailand 2
Australia 1
South Korea 1
Uruguay 1
Netherlands 1
Poland 1
Hong Kong 1
Subtotal 36
Rejected applications* 3
Total 39
Total 23
TOTAL APPLICATIONS 84 98**
STATISTICS IN TABLE COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

NOTES

* Applications for assistance may be rejected by the Foreign Ministry because they do not satisfy requirements for assistance (e.g., the requesting parent is unable to demonstrate rights of custody or visitation). In some instances, rejections reflect the fact that the taking parent has already returned with the child voluntarily, rendering the application moot.

** The far greater number of requests for visitation assistance for children in Japan in part reflects the fact that Japan allowed applications for assistance with visitation with children in Japan even in cases pre-dating the Hague Convention’s coming into force.

RETURNS

• The data regarding returns reflects applications to the Foreign Ministry for assistance in achieving the return of a child either in Japan or in a foreign country, which in the first instance involves encouraging the taking parent to return voluntarily or to mediate with the other parent. Accordingly, only some of these cases are ultimately resolved through court.

• According to the ministry, 14 children were returned from Japan, through mediation or other voluntary arrangements, alternative dispute resolution or court orders, and nine children were returned to Japan.

• These figures do not include some voluntary returns in cases where the Foreign Ministry was not formally involved.

• Three returns from Japan and one to Japan reportedly resulted from the visitation assistance process rather than the return process.

Washington Square Institute

Family Law and Family Forensics
Training Program

An Innovative Interdisciplinary Program
for Attorneys, Judges,
and Mental Health Professionals

Invites you to attend

The Loss of a Parent to the Child
And the Loss of the Child to the Parent:
Investigation of Relocation,
Parental Alienation, and Parental Child Abduction

Friday Feb. 26, 2016, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Washington Square Institute
41 E. 11th St. (between Broadway and University Pl), 4th Fl., NYC

Conference Fee: $150*
Full-time students with school ID: $75
*(Limited number of partial scholarships available – please email Linda Gunsberg for further information, lindagunsberg@yahoo.com )

PRESENTATIONS

Relocation
Philip Stahl, PhD, ABPP
Complexities of Relocation in Separation and Divorce
Relocation cases are among the most difficult in family law. This presentation will focus on both risk and protective factors, as well the limited research available regarding relocation. Dr. Stahl will also address how Courts, mediators, evaluators, consultants, and attorneys can work together to help parents solve difficult problems regarding relocation.

Hon. Helen Sturm
Relocation from the Judicial Perspective
This presentation will begin with a brief summary of the Tropea case, which sets forth the factors that are to be considered in New York State relocation cases. Judge Sturm will then discuss two cases she decided, one an application by a parent to relocate to Texas with 2 young children, and the other an application to relocate to Australia with an infant.

Parental Alienation
Linda Gunsberg, PhD
Parental Alienation: Clinical Issues
It is essential for psychotherapists of children, adolescents and adults to understand both the parental influences and the child/adolescent contributions to the destructive phenomenon referred to as Parental Alienation. Therapists who work with adults need to be familiar with how a mother or father may be fostering or stimulating alienation of the child from the other parent. The adult patient may be the alienating parent or the alienated parent. Dr. Gunsberg will discuss techniques that can help therapists elicit information about the parent’s contribution to Parental Alienation, as well as treatment and psychoeducational interventions that are useful in Parental Alienation cases.

Melissa Fenton, MBA
Resilience in the Face of Parental Alienation
This presentation will focus on Ms. Fenton’s experience of being an alienated parent, and the knowledge she has gained of the New York City Family Court System and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act laws (UCCJEA).

Parental Child Abduction
Colin Jones, JD, LLM
Family Law for Whom? Why Japan is Different
This talk about Japanese family law will likely challenge some basic Western assumptions about the role of law and courts in family-related matters, and will offer a better understanding of the problems of child abduction in Japan.

Samuel Lui, JD
Dead Dad Walking: Moving on in Life without Your Child Who Depended
on You
Child abduction coupled with parental alienation is one of the worst kinds of domestic violence against both the child and the left-behind parent. The left-behind parent continues to think and care about his child, but there is nothing he can do. He never gets any news about the welfare of his child, causing continuous anxiety. Other people are expecting him to function and work on a regular basis like a normal person. However, the trauma of losing his child lingers in his mind. He is like a man whose purpose in life has been stolen from him. Mr. Lui will share what it is like to live like this for the past 16 years.

Brian Prager, MA
Erasure of the Father: Coercive Practices, Corrosive Effects in Japanese International Parental Child Abduction
Erasure of the father, the expulsion of a caregiving natural parent from the lives of young children, is epidemic in Japan. Today, roughly three million children in Japan have meager-to-no contact with one parent after divorce, due to the absence of parental rights and protection of the parent-child relationship in family law. This induces parental child abduction, and also the disappearance of parents who despair the loss of the close bonds they previously had with their children. Mr. Prager will highlight factors contributing to the devastation and bereavement suffered by overmatched parents who lose their children to parental abduction in an unresponsive institutional environment.

Ellen B. Holtzman, JD Moderator

Conference educational objectives
Be able to define and describe relocation, parental alienation, and parental child abduction in nuanced legal and psychological terms
Understand the specific losses in the parent – child relationship as a result of relocation, parental alienation, and parental child abduction
Become knowledgeable regarding the legal, treatment, and psychoeducational options available to families facing relocation, parental alienation, and parental child abduction

Schedule

8:30-9:00am Registration & Continental Breakfast
9:00-9:15am Introductory Remarks – Linda Gunsberg
9:15-10:30am Complexities of Relocation in Separation and Divorce – Philip Stahl
10:30-11:00am Relocation from the Judicial Perspective – Hon. Helen Sturm
11:00-11:15am Q & A
11:15-11:30am Stretch Break
11:30-12:30pm Parental Alienation: Clinical Issues – Linda Gunsberg
12:30-1:00pm Resilience in the Face of Parental Alienation – Melissa Fenton
1:00-1:15pm Q & A
1:15-2:15pm Lunch (on your own)
2:15-3:15pm Family Law for Whom? Why Japan is Different – Colin Jones
3:15-3:45pm Dead Dad Walking: Moving on in Life without Your Child Who Depended on You – Samuel Lui
3:45-4:15pm Erasure of the Father: Coercive Practices, Corrosive Effects in Japanese International Parental Child Abduction – Brian Prager
4:15-5:00pm Q&A amongst Panelists, and open discussion

Bios of Presenters

Philip Stahl is a forensic psychologist in private practice, living in Maricopa County, Arizona. His current area of specialty is relocation cases, including complex international relocations . He provides consultation and expert witness testimony in child custody litigation throughout the United States, and conducts child custody evaluations. His teaching includes trainings throughout the United States and internationally for attorneys, child custody evaluators, and judges. He is on the faculty of the National Judicial College, is a Specialist Provider in Family Law for the California State Bar, and is Adjunct Faculty at Arizona Summit Law School (Phoenix). Dr. Stahl is an Invited Speaker at the Family Law and Family Forensics Training Program, Washington Square Institute. Dr. Stahl has written extensively in the area of high conflict divorce for over 25 years. His latest works are: Forensic Psychology Consultation in Child Custody Litigation: A Handbook for Work Product Review, Case Preparation, and Expert Testimony (2013); Emerging Issues in Relocation Cases (2014); and Analysis in Child Custody Evaluation Reports: A Crucial Component (2014). Dr. Stahl’s child custody evaluation was cited by the California Supreme Court in its landmark decision modifying 8 years of relocation case law following Burgess (In re Marriage of LaMusga (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1072, 12 Cal.Rptr.3d 356, 88 P.3d 81).

Judge Sturm received her JD, with Honors, from Brooklyn Law School in 1976, and began her career in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. In 1983, Judge Sturm relocated to New Mexico where she was Chief of the Medicaid Fraud Unit in the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. In 1988, Judge Sturm returned to New York and to the District Attorney’s Office where she remained until she was appointed to the bench in 1999. During the years she served as an Assistant District Attorney, Judge Sturm was the Bureau Chief of the Juvenile Crimes Bureau, created the first Child Abuse Unit, and tried numerous homicide and related cases. As a judge, she was assigned to Family Court where she presided over thousands of custody, visitation and family offense matters. Judge Sturm is currently the Administrative and Compliance Manager for the Mt. Sinai Hospital Adolescent Health Care Unit, maintains a private practice in Divorce Mediation and Consultation, and is an Administrative Law Judge with the New York State Comptroller’s Office where she hears and determines matters relating to pension entitlements.

Linda Gunsberg is Chair of the Family Law and Family Forensics Training Program at Washington Square Institute. She created this program almost 20 years ago, with the goal of training mental health professionals, attorneys for children, matrimonial attorneys, and judges from an interdisciplinary perspective. Within family litigation, Dr. Gunsberg has served as a forensic expert on issues such as divorce, child custody and parenting plans, grandparents rights, relocation, parental alienation, parental child abduction, child abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional), battered woman syndrome and domestic violence, Hague Convention cases, and adoption. She works within the United States and internationally. Dr. Gunsberg conducts and supervises forensic evaluations, consults with attorneys for children regarding child interviews, is a trial consultant to legal teams (domestic and international) and conducts work product reviews of child custody evaluations. She also is a parent coordinator, parent – child facilitator, and facilitator for a support group for alienated parents. Dr. Gunsberg was past Clinical and Research Director for Take Root, the only organization in the United States for adults who were parentally abducted as children. She is Co-Chair since 1999 of the Psychoanalysis and Law Discussion Group of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Dr. Gunsberg has co-edited and written chapters in the volumes, A Handbook of Divorce and Custody: Forensic, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives (2005), and Fathers and Their Families (1989). She has co-edited and contributed to the monographs for Psychoanalytic Inquiry, The Psychoanalyst in the Courtroom (2009), and The Adoption Journey (2010). She has lectured on numerous forensic topics, most recently the best interests of the child, parental alienation, factors critical to the child/adolescent’s paradoxical preference to live with the batterer in child custody cases, and complex issues regarding overnights for infants and toddlers. Dr. Gunsberg is also in private practice where she sees children of all ages, and adults. She feels very fortunate that her work as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst is informed by forensic issues.

Melissa Fenton is a Fundraising, Event and Communications consultant within non-profit and corporate sectors. She has served as the Chief Development and Communications Officer and interim Chief Financial Officer with charter schools; and a Principal Strategy Consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, assisting Fortune 500 companies and higher education. She was the Executive Director of City Lights Youth Theatre, a non-profit organization that offers after-school, in-school and summer theater classes and productions to young people in New York City, ages 3-19. She has produced several theater based discussions on topics facing youth such as gun and school violence, persecution for sexual orientation, and the challenges of assimilation after immigration. Ms. Fenton has worked in the Frauds Bureau in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as a trial preparation assistant, dealing with white collar crime, sex crimes and racketeering cases.

Colin Jones is Professor of Law, Doshisha Law School, Kyoto, Japan. He is author of the book, The Child Abduction Problem: How the Japanese legal system tears parents and children apart ( 2011). He also has written the following academic articles: 19th century rules over 21st reality – legal parentage under Japanese law, Family Law Quarterly (2015); Will the child abduction treaty become more “Asian”? A first look at the efforts of Singapore and Japan to implement the Hague Convention, Denver Journal of International Law & Policy (2014); No more excuses: Why recent penal code amendments should (but probably won’t) stop international parental child abduction to Japan, Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy (2007); and, In the Best Interests of the Court: What American lawyers need to know about child custody and visitation in Japan, Asia-Pacific Law and Policy Journal (2007).

Sam Lui has a B.A. in Japanese Language and Literature from University of California, Irvine and his J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law. He is currently working for Manhattan Legal Services as an attorney in the areas of family and immigration law.

Brian Prager has an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and Education from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Left-Behind-Parent whose young son disappeared into Japan in a scripted, pre-meditated parental abduction in June, 2010. He participated in the United States Department of State Town Hall Meetings in 2011 and 2012 on Japanese International Parental Child Abduction (JIPCA). Mr. Prager submitted testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2011 regarding International Child Abduction. He also has been a participant in left-behind-parent organizations such as Bring Abducted Children Home (BAC-HOME) and Kizuna – Child Parent Reunion (Kizuna-CPR). Presently, he teaches at the City University of New York.

Ellen B. Holtzman concentrates her practice in domestic relations and has represented clients in all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including parental alienation, relocation and parental child abduction. Recently she was successful as the lead attorney in a Hague Convention case, and the decision was upheld on appeal. Ms. Holtzman has frequently lectured at Continuing Legal Education programs on Representing Domestic Violence Victims in Matrimonial Actions. For the Center for Safety and Change, she also educates attorneys in the techniques of representing battered women in divorce proceedings. Ms. Holtzman was a panelist at the American Psychoanalytic Association on The Intersection between Legal, Psychological and Judicial Concepts of Best Interests of the Child’ (2012), and a panelist at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis on Where are We Now Regarding the Best Interests of the Child Standard? – The Interface between Legal, Judicial and Psychoanalytic Perspectives (2013). Ms. Holtzman is a past President of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) and is presently President of the Women’s Bar Foundation of WBASNY. She is the 2007 recipient of the Association’s Joan E. Ellenbogen Founder’s Award and she was honored by the Rockland County Women’s Bar Association with the Belle Mayer Zeck Award . She is Director of Legal Training at the Family Law and Family Forensics Training Program, Washington Square Institute.

Registration

Please register no later than February 10, 2016 since seating capacity is limited

You can download the registration form here.
Registration is by check only, payable to Washington Square Institute. Mail your check with the registration form to:
Linda Gunsberg, PhD
130 W. 56th St. (Fl. 2)
New York, NY 10019

Refund & Cancellation Policy
Full refund of registration fee will be granted if cancellation request is prior to February 19, 2016. No refunds for no-shows on the day of the conference.

Continuing Education Credits: 6.5 hrs
Washington Square Institute for Psychotherapy & Mental Health is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed social workers (#0269). 
WSI is approved by the APA (American Psychological Association) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists.
Application has been submitted and is pending for CLE credits for lawyers (6.5 hrs-skills)

For further information please contact:
Linda Gunsberg, Ph.D.
Chair, Family Law and Family Forensics Training Program
Washington Square Institute
Call: (212) 246-5506 or Email: lindagunsberg@yahoo.com

Copyright © 20XX. All Rights Reserved.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201510270089

U.S. official calls for direct meetings between parents, children ‘abducted’ to Japan

October 27, 2015

By TAKASHI OSHIMA/ Correspondent

A senior U.S. official called on Tokyo to give American parents “direct, in-person contact” with their children living in Japan during custody battles with Japanese parents under a child abduction treaty.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karen Christensen called for such one-on-one meetings in referring to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which stipulates what member nations should do when mothers or fathers take away their offspring without the consent of their spouses.

“We believe that the Japanese central authority really does take its responsibilities in the Hague Convention very seriously,” Christensen said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo.

“When we say ‘meaningful access,’ in the end we mean direct contact and unsupervised contact,” Christensen said. “We have not yet seen that kind of direct, in-person contact that we’re looking for. We would like to see this happen quickly.”

According to Washington, more than 30 Americans have requested meetings with their children living in Japan since Tokyo joined the Hague Convention in 2014.

Although some of the U.S. parents have talked to their children in Japan through video conferences or met them in the presence of observers, no in-person, unmonitored contact has been provided so far.

According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Japanese parents concerned about the risks of unmonitored meetings with their children have requested that such meetings be done through video conferences or under supervision.

“We will continue our proper support based on laws to realizing person-to-person contact,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

By TAKASHI OSHIMA/ Correspondent

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/26/national/crime-legal/custody-case-test-japan-says-u-s-father-seeking-access-girl-held-grandmother/#.VjFsDkI-DVo

Custody case a test for Japan, says U.S. father seeking access to girl held by grandmother

BY 

STAFF WRITER

A U.S. man seeking access to his daughter said Monday that the case is an opportunity for Japan to prove to the world it no longer tolerates parental child abduction.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for denying access to his 13-year-old daughter.

His former wife left with the child in 2003, at the age of 9 months, after their marriage failed. The woman committed suicide four years later.

Toland said his situation would amount to a “felony crime” in other countries with up-to-date family laws.

“In Japan, this abduction by a nonparent is not only accepted, but it is condoned. I’m the only parent in the world to (my daughter),” Toland said, who is in Japan for the first time since the trial at the Tokyo Family Court kicked off in July.

Toland said if the case is resolved it would demonstrate to the world that Japan is turning over a new leaf after years of notoriety as a “safe haven” for parental child abduction. If his daughter is not returned to him, he said, it will only alienate the nation further.

Japan joined The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. The pact does not apply in Toland’s case because the abduction was within Japan — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time. In addition to this, the convention cannot be applied retroactively.

“How can we expect Japan to ever resolve more complicated divorce, child custody issues if it cannot even resolve this very straightforward case, which does not involve divorce and where one parent is deceased and the nonparent is withholding a child above the parent who wants to care for her?” he said.

The daughter has said in a statement submitted to the Tokyo Family Court that she does not wish to be reunited with her father, according to Akira Ueno, Toland’s lawyer.

Given that the separation occurred when the girl was a baby, this suggests that her attitude was learned from others and that she is under a misapprehension of what her father is really like, Ueno said.

“In cases this like, Japanese courts have immaturely decided that children shouldn’t be returned to parents, oblivious to the fact that they’re bound to suffer once becoming adults,” Ueno said.

 | 

DEALING WITH DIVORCE

Japan may empower courts to handle more cross-border divorce suits

BY 

STAFF WRITER

After 18 months of deliberations, the Legislative Council of the Justice Ministry has drawn up an outline for legal revisions aimed at resolving a problem many failed marriages face: whether the Japan-based spouse can file for divorce here rather than overseas.

The council on Friday submitted a proposal to Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki that lists several scenarios in which Japanese family courts should be authorized to handle divorce involving couples of whom only one partner is still living in Japan.

If enacted, it would will mark the first time the government has clarified international jurisdiction rules for divorce.

Following are questions and answers on the issue:

What is the current situation?

Japan has no law that spells out the circumstances under which family courts can handle cross-border divorce disputes between a spouse who sues, the plaintiff, and his or her ex-partner, the defendant.

In the absence of a legal framework, family courts have traditionally decided on a case-by-case basis whether they have jurisdiction in divorce cases, relying only on past Supreme Court rulings.

The rulings acknowledged jurisdiction of the Japanese courts when the defendant was resident in Japan, because the inconvenience of being forced into a legal battle, it was deemed, merited greater consideration than the inconvenience faced by a plaintiff. If the defendant was overseas, that was where the case should be heard.

The-case-by-case approach means there has been no consistency in court judgments, while plaintiffs and their lawyers have had to convince the courts that they meet the special circumstances required to sue for divorce in Japan.

The lack of clear rules has placed prospective plaintiffs under emotional stress as they await a court’s decision on where their suits should take place, said Tokyo-based lawyer Tomohiro Hayase.

Under what circumstances have spouses been able to file for divorce in Japan?

A plaintiff in Japan who fled an allegedly abusive marriage abroad may qualify to have a family court hear the case because unconditionally prioritizing the whereabouts of the defendant can incur problems, Hayase said.

“For example, in cases where a Japanese wife has fled her abusive foreign husband and moved back to Japan, it would be unfair if she has to return to the husband’s country to start divorce (proceedings) against him,” the lawyer said.

Under such circumstances, domestic family courts have customarily decided they will handle the plaintiffs’ cases in Japan — even if the defendants are abroad — in accordance with what the top court called “the idea of fairness between the parties and just and speedy hearing of the case.”

What new rules are being considered?

The Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, has come up with seven scenarios under which domestic family courts would preside over cross-border divorces in Japan, including those in which both parties are Japanese nationals.

Other cases include those in which a couple lived in Japan until just before they were separated internationally — a rule Hayase said will make it easier for Japanese to initiate a divorce action against a spouse who left Japan. While this will be a common scenario, the nationality is in fact irrelevant: It could involve two Americans, one of whom continues to reside in Japan and initiates the action.

Until now it has been hard for a Japanese husband, for example, to file for divorce if his foreign wife deserts him, leaves the country and does not inform him where she is. This is because regardless of any culpability the residence of the wife — the defendant in this case — took priority.

The husband would traditionally have to go through reams of paperwork to persuade a family court that he is not to blame for a failed marriage to win jurisdiction over his case. But the new rule, if realized, will grant him the right to initiate proceedings in Japan merely on the grounds that he shared a Japanese address with her before they separated.

“Although beneficial to Japanese, the rule is likely to prove more of an inconvenience to foreigners who left Japan for whatever reason, because unlike before, under the new rule it would be possible to drag them into a court battle in Japan from abroad — even though they are the defendants,” Hayase said.

What will change if the rules are enacted?

The council said the rules will “improve the foreseeability of litigants” and “contribute to swiftly resolving conflicts.”

Hayase agrees. “Whenever clients who sought an international divorce came to us for consultation, we weren’t able to tell them for sure beforehand whether they could proceed with a lawsuit in Japan. All we could do was study past court rulings and do some guesswork,” he said, noting most of his Japanese clients preferred to file for divorce in Japan to avoid the hassle of dealing with a foreign language and having to fly overseas.

“If more precise determinations are possible, that would be a huge load off their shoulders.”

What else does the outline cover?

Subject to the council’s discussion was not only jurisdiction over divorces but also child custody rulings.

Family courts have customarily claimed jurisdiction over cross-border custody battles if the child is in Japan. The proposed rule by the council endorses this tradition, declaring that Japanese courts are authorized to handle such cases when “the child has an address in or is staying in Japan.”

However, should the child be repatriated abroad in the midst of a custody battle, such as one under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japanese courts are likely to have to terminate the debate and relinquish jurisdiction to their overseas counterparts, said Muneki Uchino, councilor of the Civil Affairs Bureau at the Justice Ministry.

Uchino said the Justice Ministry will compile an amendment based on the outline and submit it to the Diet “as soon as possible,” at the latest by early next year.

How many international marriages take place in Japan?

There were 21,130 new international marriages registered in Japan in 2014, according to data released by the welfare ministry in September.

Of the total, 14,998 couples were those between Japanese husbands and foreign wives, mostly Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos. The remaining 6,132 were of Japanese wives, with the foreign husbands predominantly Americans and Koreans.

There were 14,135 international divorces in 2014.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/07/10/national/crime-legal/u-s-father-seeking-access-to-daughter-blasts-japans-family-courts/

JAPAN TIMES

July 10, 2015

/

U.S. father seeking access to daughter blasts Japan’s family courts

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Seeking to regain custody of a daughter he hasn’t seen in years, an American father called on the Tokyo Family Court on Thursday to stop “endorsing child abduction” by parents and demonstrate that it is capable of prioritizing the best interests of children.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for refusing to let him see his 12-year-old daughter ever since the wife committed suicide in 2007 after taking away the child four years earlier due to a failed marriage.

Japan joined the Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. But since the abduction was not cross-border — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time it occurred — his case is not covered by the pact, which also doesn’t work retroactively.

Aside from getting back his child, Toland characterized his lawsuit as a challenge against the entrenched tendency by Japanese family courts to disregard the right of left-behind parents, a tendency that he claimed is tantamount to “endorsing child abduction” between parents.

“The current situation in Japan, where (my daughter) is shut off from her only parent and held by a third-party non-parent, would be inconceivable in the rest of the world,” Toland said in prerecorded video footage played by his lawyer Akira Ueno after the trial. “I sincerely hope the Japanese courts will recognize the universal right of parents, and do the right thing in this case.”

Lawyers representing Toland’s mother-in-law were not available for immediate comment on Friday.

During the trial, Toland was quoted by Ueno as saying his wish to see his abducted daughter “once a week” was met with laughter by a family court arbitrator, indicating that such a request was far beyond reach for a non-custodial parent. Toland himself couldn’t make it to the trial as he is now in the United States.

After his daughter was taken by his ex-wife in July 2003, Toland claims he has only been able to see her on a couple of occasions, with his attempts to communicate with her “flat-out rejected” by his mother-in-law.

“Customarily speaking, Japanese family courts are notorious for being overwhelmingly inclined to give custody to parents who took away their children first,” Ueno said.

Underlying such a tendency, he said, is the fact that family courts lack the understanding that children are better off being granted access to both parents after divorce.

FEB2015ACCJARTICLE

For PDF of full issue, download from: http://www.accjjournal.com/
FEBRUARY 2015 • ACCJ JOURNAL

NEW RULES ON CHILD ABDUCTION
Tokyo handles first cases under newly ratified Hague convention

It took time and the application of a degree of pressure—both international and domestic—for Japan’s Diet to approve the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which finally went into effect on April 1, 2014. So far, diplomats, lawyers, and children’s rights activists have broadly applauded the efforts of the Japanese authorities to accede to the spirit of the agreement, pointing out a number of cases in which the pact has been enforced.

They warn, however, that the legislation has been in place for less than a year, and that Japan’s courts have yet to become deeply involved in cases that, all sides agree, are complicated and replete with emotional aspects.
“It’s too early to tell yet,” Steven Maloney, consul general at the US Embassy in Tokyo, told the ACCJ Journal.
“The Japanese government has done a lot of things very well; they have enacted the legislation, set up an office in the foreign ministry, as well as assembled judges, social workers, and lawyers with diverse skills and the ability to do the job properly, and we’re very happy with that. “But how the courts react remains to be seen,” he added.

Before last April, Japan was the only G-8 nation not to have ratified this Hague convention, which generally stipulates that a child should be returned to his or her country of habitual residence when they have been taken out of that country by a parent and without the consent of the other parent.

With ever more international marriages—estimated at 40,000 a year in Japan—ending in separation or divorce, pressure from around the world has been building for Tokyo to enact relevant legislation.

In recent years, embassies in Tokyo were handling around 400 cases annually in which the Japanese parent had violated the terms of the convention. But previously, international authorities had been powerless to act once the child was in Japan.

At present, the US Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with close to 100 cases. “Each [case] is very complicated, and many involve more than one child,” Maloney said. Thirty-one applications for access to US citizen children and two cases for return are currently being handled by the Japanese authorities, and Maloney believes the Japanese authorities deserve credit for that.

“Clearly the government here is treating the issue very seriously, they are acting professionally, they are carrying out training, and they are not stonewalling, but we will know a great deal more in three months from now,” he added.

Jury still out

Concern revolves around an article in the convention that identifies “grave risk” to the physical well-being of the child at the center of a dispute as being grounds for a judge to refuse to sanction the child being returned to his or her country of habitual residence. Critics say that Japanese parents who have abducted a child are aware of this loophole and that they are likely to use it—whether or not there was any physical abuse in the past—to keep the child in Japan.

“If the article is interpreted in Japan as it is interpreted elsewhere, then we do not believe there are any loopholes,” Maloney said.

Taeko Mizuno Tada, a Tokyo-based lawyer with the firm Nagahama, Mizuno & Inoue, has handled international family cases for many years. She says the law was changed largely as a result of pressure from foreign governments.
“I believe the Japanese government agreed to ratify the convention because of overseas pressure, especially from the US government,” Mizuno said. “Over the past 20 years, amendments to the Civil Code related to family matters have been very slow and controversial in Japan.

“But as some children have been returned to Japan from other countries since April 1, we now understand that the Hague convention can be beneficial to Japanese and other residents of Japan as well,” she added.
Without external encouragement, Mizuno believes, it could have taken another 30 years for Japan to sign the Hague pact. But she agrees that the authorities here are taking their new obligations seriously.

“The Japanese foreign ministry has hired many good people to handle Hague convention issues,” she said. “And Japanese courts and the bar association have had a lot of education and training courses for Hague cases.”

Parents still suffering

However, foreign nationals who have been separated from their children for many years say Japan’s failure to ratify the convention earlier condemned them to years without their children, and that they still may never have the right to see their kids again.

“The benefits of Japan signing the convention only apply to cases where the children are under 16 years of age,” said Walter Benda, of Virginia, who has seen his two daughters just once in 20 years.

“Furthermore the Hague convention is not retroactive, so cases such as mine, which occurred in the past, and in which the children are already 16 or older, are not covered under any of the provisions of this treaty,” Benda added. He is joint founder of the Japan chapter of the US-based Children’s Rights Council.

Benda’s wife disappeared with the girls after seeing him off to work one morning from their home in Chiba Prefecture, and she rebuffed all his efforts to make contact with them. As soon as he did find them again, they vanished once more. The only time he has seen them was for a few moments on a street in a Japanese town in 1998, after a private investigator managed to track down the girls and their mother.

The problem was overlooked for many years simply because it was not in the public eye, and there was “a cultural bias” in Japan that supported Japanese parents who had abducted children, Benda said.

“However, as the number of cases kept growing at an ever increasing rate, with parents becoming more and more organized and being able to use the Internet to leverage this issue, it started to catch the attention of leaders in the US, Japan, and other countries,” he explained. “In addition to media coverage, various documentaries, such as From the Shadows, further exposed the problem.

“Rallies and other events held by parents in the US, Japan, and other countries also raised public awareness, as did the passage of various congressional resolutions in the US.

“All of this built up to the point where it started to become an international diplomatic issue that Japanese leaders had to deal with when meeting with their foreign counterparts,” he said. “All of these efforts took about 20 years of hard work and sacrifices by parents who had their children internationally abducted.”

And while Benda concedes that little can be done in his case, he agrees that Japan signing the convention means that other foreign parents may not have to go through what he has endured for two decades.

“We have seen a marked decline in the number of parents contacting our organization for help because of their children being internationally abducted,” he said. “I definitely believe that Japan’s signing of the Hague convention has had a deterrent effect on the number of parental abductions of children of couples with one Japanese spouse and one non-Japanese spouse.”

US nationals seeking advice may contact tokyoacs@state.gov, call 03 3224 5000, or view the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov/content/ childabduction/english/about.html.

David Levy

December 31, 2014

David Levy helped inspire the foundation of the Children’s Rights Council of Japan chapter in 1996, and was an active supporter of our activities over the years. Rest in peace, David, and thanks for all you have done to support a child’s rights to both parents worldwide.

DAVID LAWRENCE LEVY

On Thursday, December 11, 2014; David Lawrence Levy of Hyattsville, MD. Beloved husband of Ellen Levy; devoted father of Justin (Ilana) Levy, and Diana (Danny) Moldovan; beloved brother of Carol Levy; cherished grandfather of Corina Levy. Funeral Services will be held on Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 10;15 a.m. at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20012. Interment Mount Lebanon Cemetery. Shiva services will be held at the late residence Sunday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to Tifereth Israel Congregation. Arrangements by Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, Inc. under Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington Contract.
– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=david-l-levy&pid=173444933&#sthash.SWnJG6hL.UC6Q7Ein.dpuf

Business Standard
Thursday, November 20, 2014 | 07:19 AM IST

http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/first-japan-linked-child-returns-home-under-abduction-treaty-114111200752_1.html

First Japan-linked child returns home under abduction treaty
AFP | Tokyo
November 12, 2014 Last Updated at 14:30 IST

The Japanese government has helped return a boy to his German home in the first such case since adopting an international treaty on cross-border child custody disputes, an official said today.

The foreign ministry said it intervened in a case involving a five-year-old boy, brought to Japan by his Japanese mother, who left the boy’s German father.

The mother took the boy in June without the father’s consent, a ministry official said.

“In August, the father contacted us to request assistance. We have located the boy, and contacted the mother,” he said.

“In October, the mother took the boy to his home,” he said, adding that the parents will have to work out their difference in Germany.

Tokyo’s official involvement became possible after Japan enacted in April the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Japan had long been the only member of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations not to ratify the convention, which requires nations to return snatched children to the countries where they usually reside.

Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents, which has previously left few legal avenues for those whose former partners have fled to Japan with their children.

Hundreds of US parents have complained that they have been left unable to see their half-Japanese children. At least 120 have filed cases in Japan, invariably to no avail.

Major European nations such as Britain and France have also pressured Japan to join the shared rule among leading powers.

The Japanese government has 13 pending requests from non-Japanese parents for return of their offsprings taken to Japan, the foreign ministry official said.

There are nine cases where Japanese parents are asking for return of their children taken abroad, he said.

The foreign ministry has also accepted 46 requests from non-Japanese parents requesting meetings with their children in Japan but not asking for their return.

There are 13 cases of Japanese parents requesting meetings with their kids taken abroad, the official added.

http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1594102/racist-cartoon-issued-japanese-ministry-angers-rights-activists

‘Racist’ cartoon issued by Japanese ministry angers rights activists

Pamphlet issued by Tokyo to Japan’s embassies in response to Hague convention is criticised for depicting a foreign man beating his child
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 3:31pm

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

The cartoon showing a white man beating his child has drawn condemnation from human rights activists.

Human rights activists in Japan have reacted angrily to a new pamphlet released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they claim is racist and stereotypical for depicting white fathers beating their children.

The 11-page leaflet has been sent to Japanese embassies and consulates around the world in response to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction going into effect in Japan on April 1.

Tokyo dragged its feet on ratifying the treaty, which broadly stipulates that a child should be returned to his or her country of habitual residence when they have been taken out of that country by a parent but without the consent of the other parent.

But manga-style images of foreign fathers beating children and Japanese women portrayed as innocent victims have raised the hackles of campaigners, both those fighting discrimination against foreigners and non-Japanese who have been unable to see children who have been abducted by Japanese former spouses.

Debito Arudou said the Japanese “see themselves as the victims”.”It’s the same problem with any negotiations in which Japan looks like it has been beaten,” said Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese citizen who was born in the United States and has become a leading human rights activist.

“After being forced to give up a degree of power by signing the Hague treaty, they have to show that they have not lost face and they try to turn the narrative around,” he said. “It’s the same as in the debate over whaling.

“The Japanese always see themselves as the victims, and in this case, the narrative is that Japanese women are being abused and that the big, bad world is constantly trying to take advantage of them.”

Arudou is particularly incensed by the cover of the publication, which shows a blond-haired foreigner hitting a little girl, a foreign father taking a child from a sobbing Japanese mother and another Japanese female apparently ostracised by big-nosed foreign women.

“It is promoting the image that the outside world is against Japanese and the only place they will get a fair deal is in Japan,” said Arudou.

The rest of the pamphlet takes the form of a conversation between a cartoon character father and son, but with the storyline showing the difficulties of a Japanese woman living abroad with her half-Japanese son.

Arudou says the publication then “degenerates into the childish” with the appearance of an animated doll that is the father figure’s pride and joy, but also dispenses advice.

“As well as promoting all these stereotypes, why are they not talking about visitation issues for foreigners whose half-Japanese children have been abducted by their ex-wives?” asked Arudou.

Several foreigners who have been unable to see their children for years have already contacted Arudou to express their anger, with a number of US nationals saying they would pass the document onto lawmakers.

Arudou’s post on the issue on his website has also attracted attention, with commentators describing the pamphlet as “racist propaganda”.

“This is disgusting,” one commentator posted. “Pictures are powerful, more powerful than words. And the only time I’ve ever seen anything remotely like this is when I did a search for old anti-Japanese propaganda.

“Of course, that was disgusting too, but it was wartime!”

Another added, “What a pathetic advert for an ‘advanced’ country.

“As for the text – not wasting any more bandwidth on such utter racist, xenophobic, patronising, paranoid nonsense.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Racist’ cartoon sparks outrage

The following is a copy of the English language version of the pamphlet:

MOFA Hague Convention pamphlet

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 102 other followers