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.