http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/23/national/japan-to-join-child-custody-pact-in-april/#.UmfXgvmUSM4

Japan to join child custody pact in April

KYODO

The government aims to accede to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction on April 1.

Japan had been accused by the United States and European countries of being a “safe haven” for international child abductions.

The treaty, which currently has 89 signatories, sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken to another country, if requested by the other parent.

The convention will enter into force in a state acceding to it on the first day of the third calendar month after the instrument of accession is deposited with the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

The Diet approved the country’s accession to the treaty in May and enacted a law in June stipulating domestic implementation procedures for the Hague treaty.

Under the legislation, a central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to locate children who have been taken away and encourage the people involved to settle the dispute through consultations.

If the consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will decide on the child’s treatment. The legislation also allows a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared.

The central authority will be staffed with lawyers, experts on domestic violence and child psychology counselors.

At the family courts in Tokyo and Osaka, judges have been trained on the Hague convention. The Foreign Ministry and the family courts plan to open a website to explain about the procedures to settle disputes under the pact.

The government plans to join the international treaty for settling cross-border child custody disputes in April after submitting necessary documents in January to the Dutch Foreign Ministry, which handles matters on the pact, a government source said Tuesday.

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http://japandailypress.com/japanese-mother-gains-custody-of-child-abducted-by-australian-father-during-2011-tsunami-2025510

Japanese mother gains custody of child abducted by Australian father during 2011 tsunami

posted on MARCH 20, 2013

by IDA TORRES in NATIONAL

The Family Court of Australia has granted sole custody of a little boy to his Japanese mother, after his Australian father abducted the child during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The court said that the boy was not at an “unacceptable risk” from radiation exposure if brought back o Japan.

The father first met the Japanese woman, a farmer’s daughter, when he was still married to his first wife who was pregnant at that time. After the 2011 disasters took place, when the man and the Japanese woman were already married and had their son, he convinced her to go back to Australia to fix their “trouble marriage”. He soon left her to go back to Japan, and when it looked like he wasn’t coming back, she was forced to hand legal guardianship of the boy to her in-laws while she went back to Japan to sort things out with him. She caught him cheating with a woman who would later become his next fiancee and future third wife (we’re sensing a pattern here). When she called her now ex mother-in-law to get her son back, she was told the boy was being shipped off to New Zealand. A bitter legal battle then ensued, with the mother eventually getting the boy back.

Justice Stuart Fowler decided to award sole parental responsibility to the mother and both were allowed to return to Japan. On the side, the judge hoped that Japan would eventually sign the Hague Abduction Convention. During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent trip to the United States, he promised President Barack Obama that Japan would finally sign the treaty. Japan is the only Group 8 country that is not a signatory to the convention, which aims to protect and to return abducted children to their usual place of residence in case of failed international marriage.

[ via Courier Mail ]

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/02/15/national/ldp-gets-behind-the-hague-convention/#.USJvjqXBG5K

From Japan Times:

LDP gets behind the Hague Convention
BY REIJI YOSHIDA
STAFF WRITER
FEB 15, 2013
Now that a majority of the Diet appears to support joining the international treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes, the government expressed determination Thursday to push for quick ratification of the 1980 Hague Convention.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s joint foreign and legal affairs policy panel gave the green light Wednesday for the government to sign the convention, making it almost certain that the necessary legislation will be enacted before the Diet session ends in June.

The LDP panel is expected to formally approve the bills next Tuesday.

“We’re now making our utmost efforts to conclude the convention quickly,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Some members of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, had been cautious about approving the treaty and related bills, fearing that Japanese mothers who flee domestic violence overseas could lose protection.

But New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said Tuesday the party is willing to approve the treaty by the end of this Diet session.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, is expected to get on board because it had submitted similar bills to the Diet last year.

“(Joining) the Hague Convention is important for our country as well,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Abe has cited the increase in international marriages in recent years as another reason for joining the convention.

The number of international divorces involving a Japanese spouse more than doubled to about 19,000 in 2010 from about 7,700 in 1992, which has meant a corresponding increase in the number of cross-border disputes over child custody.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight richest countries not to join the convention.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the U.S. government had requested Tokyo help solve 81 alleged child abduction cases involving a Japanese parent as of last September, while the British and Canadian governments have sought help on 39 cases each and the French government 33 cases.

During his first summit with President Barack Obama in Washington next week, Abe is expected to express his determination to have Japan join the Hague Convention.

http://accjjournal.com/left-behind/

 

LEFT BEHIND

PARENTS FIGHT FOR JUSTICE IN JAPAN

BY MIKE DEJONG
Apr 1, 2012 | 5 Comments | 251 views

After decades of reluctance, Japan is set to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This international treaty, signed by more than 80 countries, is designed to prevent children from being taken from their home countries. While experts say joining the Hague Convention is a positive first step, critics argue that the real issue in Japan is not child abduction – but a lack of enforceable joint-custody laws to protect the rights of parents and children following divorce. This month, we examine the issues surrounding child custody and show why divorcing one’s spouse often means losing one’s children in Japan.

ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN SHELLEY
It was mid-October 2009,when Masako Akeo went to watch a choir concert at her son’s school. Akeo hadn’t seen little Kazuya in some time and was excited to hear him sing and possibly even have a word with him. After waiting patiently for the performance to end – and the applause to die down – Akeo approached her only child. 

“Kazuya!” she called out.

The little boy turned and there was a moment of recognition. But Akeo never got to follow up. To her surprise, the principal marched over and grabbed her arm. “Why did you come here?” he barked. “Why did you interrupt the concert?”

Akeo was pulled into a separate room and interrogated. She was ordered to leave the school and not talk to her son again.

“That choir concert was in the morning,” she says. “I waited outside the gate until six o’clock. But he did not come out.”

Akeo was treated like a criminal for wanting to see her son. But she was not a criminal. In fact, she was a victim of child abduction and parental alienation. And she remains so to this day.

In late summer 2006, Kazuya was spirited away from the family home by Akeo’s Japanese ex-husband. Akeo tried everything to get her son back including hiring private investigators and going to court more than 60 times. Nothing worked. Despite being a desperate mother, she has only seen the boy three times since his abduction.

“I met him two times in the Family Court,” she says. “One time was one hour – the other time was 45 minutes.

“The last mediation, my ex-husband made an agreement. I could meet my son every two months. But then final mediation, he gave the court my son’s letter. The letter said: ‘Oh, I have to study to enter high school. It is quite difficult for me now (to meet you).’

“Always, I had hope. But that day finished everything. I can’t do anything about my son.”

Takaji Takeuchi can sympathize with Akeo’s desperation. On a warm spring night in March of 2011, he tried to talk to his son who had also been taken away by his Japanese ex-spouse several years before. Japan had been hit by the horrible 3/11 tragedy and Takeuchi, like many others, was concerned about his family. He found his son at home with his ex-wife.

TAKAJI TAKEUCHI HAS ONLY SEEN HIS SON KOUSUKE FIVE TIMES IN FIVE YEARS. (PHOTO BY MIKE DEJONG)

“They came out together,” Takeuchi says. “In front of my ex-wife, my son was standing. “I said ‘Are you okay?’ He said ‘Yeah, I’m okay. But why (did) you come here?’ I don’t have a father. I don’t need a father.” 

Both Takeuchi and Akeo’s children have been turned against them. It’s a common occurance for children separated from their mothers or fathers for lengthy periods of time. And it’s something that causes great pain on all sides.

“Every year, (at) New Year I say this year will be better,” Akeo says. “But you know, every year is getting worse. Still, I must keep going and keep doing something.”

Heartbreaking But Not Uncommon
These two cases are heartbreaking but not uncommon in Japan. In fact, there may be thousands of parents like them, who have lost contact with their children following a marital breakdown.

The reason is simple: there are no provisions for joint custody in Japan. In fact, under the country’s Meiji Era Civil Code, child custody is awarded to only one parent following a divorce, with the other parent is generally shut out. With no enforceable visitation rules, non-custodial parents generally lose access to their own children.

“Japanese Family Law is a misnomer in that there isn’t such a thing,” says Colin P. A. Jones, professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. “There is not a statute that is called Family Law.

“There have never been a lot of substantive rules clearly laid out somewhere in a statute, which say parents have to do this for their children… or after divorce this is what’s supposed to happen.”

Jones says the parent-child relationship in Japan is defined in terms of a marital relationship, so essentially, divorcing a spouse also means divorcing one’s children. In the rare cases where visitation is granted, Japanese courts usually limit non-custodial parental time to a few hours per month. The custodial parent retains the right to cancel visitation at any time without penalty. This policy differs greatly from Western countries where the rights of parents are maintained and enforced – even after divorce.

“For a number of historical reasons, Japan has never really developed the notion that there are Constitutional rights associated with the parent-child relationship,” says Jones. “That is why child abduction – as we would call it – within Japan has been a problem as long, if not longer, than the international abduction cases have been.”

MASAKO AKEO HAS ONLY SEEN HER SON KAZUYA THREE TIMES IN SIX YEARS.
After a divorce in Japan, a non-custodial parent can no longer decide on their child’s health, education, living arrangements and schooling – even what name the child will carry into the future. It is common for custodial parents to move away from the other parent without notifying them of their child’s whereabouts. 

Critics say it’s a system that promotes and legitimizes child abduction and alienation.

Best Interests of the Child? 
In denying or severely limiting visitation, Japanese courts often reason that children “need protection” from the “trauma of divorce.” For example, in 2003, a desperate mother looking to visit her son was told by an Osaka High Court that “the child is satisfied with his current established lifestyle” with his father and new step-mother. The court denied the mother’s visitation request stating that “exposing the child to different lifestyles and methods of discipline can have adverse effects on the feelings and emotional stability of the child.”

This opinion flies in the face of research by child psychologists, psychiatrists and child welfare experts worldwide who argue that, despite the conflicts inherent with divorce, children need contact with both parents to grow up as healthy, well-adjusted adults.

“Empirical and longitudinal studies show that maintaining contact with non-custodial parents is beneficial for children’s well-being,” says clinical psychologist Kazuyo Tanase, a professor at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University.

In an interview with NHK, Dr. Tanase said she believes the current visitation system in Japan does not serve children or parents well. “It should be changed. Parents with no custody should be able to spend substantial amounts of time with their children like weekends and long vacations with overnights, not just several hours a month. Secondly, couples shouldn’t be allowed to separate or get divorced without a parenting plan in place. Finally, couples should be able to choose between sole custody and joint custody.”

HAPPIER DAYS FOR MASAKO AKEO AND HER SON KAZUYA.

In recent months, diplomatic officials from the US, Canada and Europe have lobbied Japan to implement a joint custody system. Senior members of the Obama Administration including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also pushed Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention – an international agreement that protects children from abduction. Japan is the only G8 country yet to sign the accord. The Japanese government has pledged to join the Hague Convention this year and the Justice Ministry has already released legislative proposals due to be submitted to the Diet this spring. However, critics say the proposals include so many conditions that the law will be virtually unenforceable.

“It’s pretty depressing,” says Jones, after reviewing the proposals. “It seems pretty clear that Japan is going to implement the Hague based on a number of assumptions that conflict with the assumptions of the Hague Convention.

“The implementation regime (in Japan) is basically going to assume that the taking parent has a good reason – they’re going to protect the taking parent until the left-behind parent proves otherwise.
“I don’t see it really getting anywhere – really making any changes.”

Black Hole For Child Abduction
Japan is a signatory of Article 10.2, the United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of the Child, which reads: “A child whose parents reside in different states shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.”

Yet personal relations and direct contact with both parents often does not happen in Japan. And, with its lack of respect for international court rulings and a decades-long reluctance to join the Hague Convention, some critics call Japan a “black hole” for child abduction.

In fact, the US State Department warns that “Abductions to Japan represent one of the largest portfolios in the Office of Children’s Issues and are among the most difficult to resolve. To date, the Office of Children’s Issues does not have a record of any cases resolved through a favorable Japanese court order or through the assistance of the Japanese government.”

Two high profile cases recently highlighted the need for Japan to get serious about child abduction. Last December, Wisconsin doctor Moises Garcia saw his nine-year old daughter returned after a four-year fight. The child had been abducted to Japan by her mother, who ignored a US court order granting the father custody. The child was returned as part of a plea bargain agreement when the mother was arrested in Hawaii on child abduction charges. In 2009, the Japanese ex-wife of American Christopher Savoie also ignored a US court order and took the couple’s children away. Savoie traveled to Japan to try and get the children back but was himself arrested on abduction charges. The charges were later dropped but Savoie was forced to leave Japan without his children.

In both of these cases, Japan failed to recognize US court decisions and experts say this highlights not only problems with Japanese law but also the country’s disregard for international court rulings.

Left Behind Parents
An organization known as Left Behind Parents Japan (LBPJ) has been campaigning for Japan to join the Hague Convention and to implement an enforceable visitation system. The group – which brings together foreign and Japanese parents who have lost access to their children – has taken its fight to senior levels of the Japanese government, including meetings with a former Japanese Justice Minister.

“Meeting with (former Justice Minister) Eda Satsuki was extremely important because he’s been a lawyer for over 40 years,” says LBPJ spokesperson Bruce Gherbetti. “He was a Family Court Judge early in his career, so he understands the issues at play.

“And I believe that he inherently believes that the solution is for Japan to sign the Hague Convention.

“Ultimately, Article 818-819 needs to be changed. That’s the (article of the) Civil Code that speaks to sole parental authority.

“Kyodo shinken is the answer,” says Gherbetti. “Kyodo shinken or joint custody.”

Not Only A “Foreign” Matter
From the attention given to high profile international abduction cases, one might assume the child abduction issue is a “foreign” matter in Japan. However, it is not. Japan’s divorce rate is now more than double what it was in the early 1970s and statistics show that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce (nearly 40 percent in 2010) – which means there could be thousands of permanently separated Japanese parents and children. At least 20 percent of the cases also involve left-behind mothers.

“If you’re a public school teacher, you’re looking at a class where one-third of the children probably have experienced a parental divorce,” says Jones. “Just nobody talks about it and the law really has not addressed what should happen to children after divorce. What is in their best interests after divorce.”

Despite all of the publicity surrounding the issue, it does not appear that help is coming soon from the Japanese government. In an interview with the Japan Times on February 1, 2012, Japan’s new Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa had this to say about modernizing the Civil Code: “If we allow dual parental rights, it will be difficult to decide which parent the children live with and to make other decisions. I believe a major complaint that people seeking dual parental rights have is that they don’t get to see their children enough. That can be largely solved by ensuring visitation rights.”

“The problem is that visitation rights are not enforceable under the current system,” says Gherbetti. “You could talk about visitation rights all you want, but if one parent still has veto rights over the other, then visitation provisions are essentially meaningless.

“To continue to disallow dual parental rights is a human rights violation, plain and simple,” says Gherbetti.

LBPJ member Dennis Gunn adds, “If one side has tyrannical power over the relationship with your child, then sooner or later – and usually sooner – that is going to be abused.

“They have devised a system here that is guaranteed to cause the parents… and the children to suffer.”

 

PHOTO BY LOUISE ROUSE

Suffering is what Masako Akeo continues to do. Although she devotes much of her time and attention to helping other left-behind parents, she endures on-going nightmares about her son’s whereabouts. She doesn’t know where he is, what he is doing or whether or not he is safe. His childhood was cruelly stripped from her by a vindictive ex-husband and a system that supports child abduction. 

“I’m kind of an activist,” she says. “Maybe so my son can see TV or magazine or newspaper.

Okay, Mommy’s doing this for me. That’s why I’m doing this – for my son.”

 

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120307/WILLIAMSON01/303060076/Franklin-man-plans-press-case-against-judge-international-child-custody-dispute

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120221hn.html

 

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

 

HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO

Focus on ‘exceptions’ waters down abduction pact

 

By AMY J. SAVOIE

For the attention of the Japanese government:

 

News photo
Divided family: Christopher Savoie is seen in June 2009 with his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca, at a park near their home in Franklin, Tennessee. The children were later taken to Japan by their mother, in violation of a U.S. court custody decision. Savoie was arrested in Japan in September 2009 during an unsuccessful attempt to regain custody. AP

 

Like many other court hearings that follow a divorce, a court transcript out of Tennessee reflects testimony concerning a couple’s two children:

Attorney: Ms. Savoie. … You have known all along that Dr. Savoie’s biggest fear is that you’re going to take those children to Japan and he’ll never see them again; you know that?

Noriko Savoie: I’ve never split (the) children and (their) father. I know how important (a) father is for children, and I am not going to do that. I keep telling him I’m not going to do that.

Noriko Savoie spoke these words shortly before she did precisely what she promised under oath not to do: In August 2009, she kidnapped Isaac and Rebecca Savoie from their father’s home in Tennessee — away from their school, their friends, their church, and away from their loving father.

They were taken from a country whose laws say it is in a child’s best interest to know and be loved by both parents, and they were abducted to a land that prefers a “clean break” after the dissolution of a marriage — where one parent is expected to disappear forever.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction would provide a remedy for the prompt return of these and other abducted children, if only Japan would sign it.

For too long, Japan was “considering the possibility” that it might join the Hague treaty someday, and the government promised to think about it after some further study.

As the only G-8 nation that has still refused to sign the Hague despite relentless international pressure, Japan has been under attack by human rights groups, psychologists and ambassadors to Japan from several countries, all of whom insist unequivocally that it is in the child’s best interest to have access to both parents -regardless of a divorce.

Acquiescing to foreign pressure, Japan has finally announced, amidst great fanfare, that it would soon sign the Hague treaty, perhaps even within the next few months.

Growing up in Japan’s culture of uso mo hoben – “lying is also a means to an end”- many Japanese abductors, upon a divorce, may have felt justified in giving false testimony in order to gain access to their children’s passports.

However, for the scores of left-behind parents who have been lied to (“I would never kidnap the children”) and who suffer daily through the agony of having lost a child, Japan’s recent promise to sign the Hague is being studied with an abundance of caution and a large dose of skepticism.

Their concern is well-founded: Recent Diet session videos reveal that rather than finding ways to return children after signing the Hague, Japan’s efforts are focused on creating “exceptions” that would allow its courts to refuse the return of abducted kids.

This begs the question: If Japan is going to sign the Hague treaty in good faith, then why focus only on creating loopholes?

The nonprofit group Bring Abducted Children Home (BACHome) brought its concerns to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

Working in conjunction with several Japanese left-behind parents, BACHome warned Campbell that Japan is writing legislation that will allow it to essentially seize jurisdictional control over any new and existing abduction cases in order to ensure that children would, in fact, not be returned to the countries from which they were taken.

These loopholes would allow the abducting parent to coach (or brainwash) a kidnapped child, encouraging that child to develop the “opinion” that he/she does not want to be returned, and that child’s purported “wish” would be upheld.

Kirk Weir, an internationally-recognized psychologist, has researched this issue and found, more often than not, that a child’s alleged “opinion” that he or she does not want to see a left-behind parent is completely unrelated to the child’s actual “wish for a relationship” — in other words, the child is taught to have the opinion that the left-behind parent is “bad” based only on the taking parent’s version of events.

Mr. Weir states that during the parent-child reunions that he studied, “very young children easily resumed a good relationship with the nonresident parent (i.e. left-behind parent) once a visit took place.”

He suspected that the children enjoyed “the immediate pleasure of love and affection from the (left-behind parent) and were quick to forget the influence of their family’s views.”

Unfortunately, under Japan’s new rules an abducting parent can claim that the child does not want to go home (when, in fact, it is the parent who coached the child into voicing this opinion), or an abductor can claim domestic violence as a means of justifying her actions.

The problem with the latter is that Japan has taken this frightening (and very serious) Western phrase of “domestic violence” and broadened it into something unrecognizable.

Around the time that Japan announced a decision to join the Hague, Dr. Numazaki Ichirou devised a list of domestic violence scenarios that could be used to justify the refusal of a child’s return under a “domestic violence exception.”

Within his list, Dr. Numazaki suggests that even if a father is not at all violent or dangerous, “just one” of the following accusations could prevent a father from being reunited with his child: if the father ever criticized the mother’s shortcomings, if the father was ever annoyed when the mother “talked back” to him, or if the father ever “felt hurt” when the mother pushed back at him.

In other words, interpersonal marital strife is being defined as “domestic violence”.

The Japan Times recently quoted Japanese attorney Takao Tanase’s opinion of this: “Japanese family court judges sometimes recognize domestic arguments as verbal violence, but what couples who are facing divorce don’t argue?” (“Bills Could Render Hague Toothless,” Feb. 8).

Of course a child should be protected from actual risk of domestic violence, and this column is by no means an attempt to diminish the importance of protecting children who are at risk of grave and imminent harm by an abusive parent.

The problem is that Japan will allow temporary, inter-personal (nonviolent) disagreements to justify the permanent abduction of a child.

Given this inhuman standard of behavior, even Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi could not hope to prevail against such guidelines, for even those “heroes of peace” frequently disagreed with those in their midst — often quite vociferously.

In other words, it seems that Japan’s domestic violence “catch-all” provision will only allow the return of an abducted child if the left-behind parent is abnormally docile or, indeed, is a robot.

Like the Japanese saying, kaden rika (“if you really don’t have bad intentions, then don’t act like you do”), if Japan truly intends to abide by the Hague treaty, then why does it appear that the government is planning to sign the Hague Convention but has no intent to actually honor it?

Amy J. Savoie received her doctorate from Dartmouth College and is currently a third-year law student at the Nashville School of Law. Dr. Savoie is married to Christopher Savoie. In August 2009, Christopher Savoie’s children were abducted from the U.S. to Japan by his ex-wife. A few weeks later, he was arrested while trying to reclaim his children. Send submissions of between 500 and 600 words tocommunity@japantimes.co.jp

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/movie/feature201202012112.html 

The Japanese attorney interviewed in this report, Kensuke Onuki, handles approximately 200 international divorce cases a year (http://www.japantoday.com/category/quote-of-the-day/view/most-child-abductions-by-japanese-women-are-a-result-of-spousal-violence) and seems to have a vested interest in the legal status quo concerning child custody in Japan.  According to the following link, he has faced disciplinary problems with the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations:

http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/nb_ichii/25263536.html

Below is a link to the notes by Bruce Gherbetti  from a meeting of members of the leadership of Left Behind Parents Japan with Yoshinori Oguchi, member of the House of Representatives in Japan, on Monday, January 16th, 2012.

Mr. Oguchi is a member of the New Komeito party, the third largest political party in the Diet, and he was a member of the MoFA committee which discussed modifying Japan’s civil code last fall in order to sign The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

http://4rionandlaurenandjulia.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/japan-firm-on-not-addressing-existing-cases-of-parental-child-abduction/?mid=580496

This seems to be the first case that a Japanese abductor has been detained by U.S. law enforcement.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ2011102916089

This is “from the trenches” and tells what it’s really like in Japan when you are denied access to your kids by your spouse or ex-spouse.
October 4, 2011, from The Japan Times Online:
THE ZEIT GIST

Left-behind dads take desperate measures

Richard Cory‘s battle to be reunited with his kids exposes role of bureaucracy in ‘land of the abducted son’

 

By RICHARD CORY

“In September of 2010, The Japan Times published a two-part series by a man under the pen name Richard Cory telling the extraordinary tale of his divorce and custody battles over his three children with his Japanese ex-wife . . . essentially custody by capture.” — “Divorce and the Welfare of the Child in Japan,” Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, June 2011

My story, the Richard Cory story (Zeit Gist, Nov. 3, 2009; Sept. 21, 2010; Sept. 28,2010), demonstrates perhaps more than any other reported the role Japanese public servants often play in facilitating the removal of children from loving parents, usually fathers, who desire to parent their offspring. It’s a story that everyone, particularly foreigners who might not be aware of Japan’s sordid reputation as the “land of the abducted son,” should read and seriously contemplate before settling in this country.

Fathers are generally the victims of parental abduction, but loving mothers have been left behind too, and if you dare think that your spouse can’t simply decide five, 10 or 15 years down the road that he or she no longer wants you in your child’s life, you’d better go back and read the signs so prominently displayed at Narita airport: Yokoso Nippon! — Welcome to Japan.

Shortly after the first Cory article was printed, I finally decided to share the story with a fellow that I had become increasingly conversational with at the gym. This apparently single man in his 20s then opened up about a secret of his own: His son had been abducted a year earlier by his Japanese wife.

In his case — and I have reviewed the ruling — the family court investigators had recommended visitation of one hour a month, but the judge overseeing the case instead wrote in her decision: “Since one hour is relatively short, once a month is seen as not sufficient to build a healthy father-child relationship, so the rate of twice a month is deemed befitting. Furthermore, if the father’s Japanese language skills improve, expansion of visitation rights and definitions are naturally possible.”

Overlooking the prejudice based on Japanese ability, a judiciary filled with women who not only think but are willing to write that two hours a month is adequate for a healthy father-child relationship more than demonstrates the utter lack of respect afforded fathers in Japan. Would she, or any other judge, dare pen such an abomination about mothers? And how would Japanese react if, for example, a judge in an English-speaking country limited a Japanese parent’s contact with his or her own child based on the parent’s less-than-fluent English skills?

Moreover, for those of you who might think that one to two hours a month actually refers to “one to two hours,” let me direct your attention back to those signs at Narita airport. Real or fabricated excuses for not making the child available for visitation are common. This fellow’s wife would kindly let him make the two-hour journey to see his son, and then, immediately prior to the scheduled meeting, phone his lawyer and claim to be a bit under the weather. How much of this state-tolerated abuse would you endure before you finally threw in the towel?

Many foreigners claim that they would leave Japan for the more evolved parental protections offered elsewhere — what is commonly known as “jurisdiction shopping.” In fact, as the end of 2010 approached, I was contacted by a long-term resident of Japan considering such a maneuver. This American father claimed that his two young children were being abused by their Japanese mother, and even though he loved all that Japan offered, he also saw his marriage going down the same path as mine.

In my case, officers at the ward’s Child Guidance Center (jidōsōdanjo) made at least three offers to put my daughter in a shelter to protect her from an increasingly abusive mother in the three months leading up to her abduction — offers declined because she was scared to be alone (the center would not allow her father or her brothers to enter with her). However, after the abduction these same officers refused to make any efforts to protect my daughter or her brothers from their mother.

In mid-December, the man who had contacted me quit his job, transferred his money overseas, and then he, his wife and two children flew out of Japan on what appeared to be a typical Christmas visit with his family. The day after Christmas, he took the children to a secure location and then told his wife that he and the children would not be going back to Japan. And they didn’t. They quietly disappeared, and she returned alone shortly after the new year.

Now, it should be noted that judges outside Japan generally have no tolerance for the unilateral removal of a child from the habitual residence, i.e., where the child has lived during the previous six months. This was demonstrated ever so clearly in the Carter v. Carter case.

This dispute involved an American man and his Japanese wife. They met while he was stationed in Japan on a military assignment and were married here in 1994. A year later they moved to the States, and in 2002 while in Nebraska, where they had lived since 1999, they welcomed their son into the world. A few months later, Mr. Carter was assigned to a position at the Yokosuka Naval Base, and the family lived there for the next 2½ years. After Mr. Carter’s assignment ended, he returned to Nebraska with his son and filed for legal separation and permanent custody.

However, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have jurisdiction because the boy had lived the previous six months in Japan, and furthermore awarded attorney fees of $10,000 to Ms. Carter for being “forced to leave her home in Japan to defend this lengthy and meritless jurisdiction dispute.” In the end, this naval officer most likely sank his own ship after returning to Nebraska when he advised his wife in an email that she “should be looking for an Omaha-based attorney.” Because she found one.

Those who are not Japanese might expect their embassy or department of foreign affairs to provide protections. My own court-mandated divorce mediation has continued since January 2010, and my wife has refused to allow any visitation with my sons, now 11 and 8. Over the past 18 months, the U.S. Embassy has made three requests for welfare visits with the boys, and each request has been turned down by the mother.

In fact, the most recent request was made by my congressman, who asked the U.S. State Department to confirm the safety of the boys. The State Department contacted the U.S. Embassy, which contacted the mother’s Japanese lawyer. In its response to my congressman, the State Department wrote that the mother’s lawyer stunningly claimed to be “unaware of (Mr. Cory’s) lack of contact with the children” but assured the embassy that “the courts have been monitoring the children’s wellbeing as part of the proceedings.”

At my next mediation session, I asked the family court investigator present what had been done over the past year to monitor the wellbeing of the children. I was then told that court officers were not monitoring the children, but they could ask the mother how the children are doing and possibly for a photo, even though she would be under no obligation to provide one and any information she gave would not be verified.

ASfinal option for left-behind parents to reestablishing links with their children is often the use of costly private investigators. Being a public servant — an English teacher at a junior high school in Tokyo, to be exact — my wife was able to take advantage of a very generous medical leave that allows public servants to take a year away from work at 80 percent pay for a variety of “medical” conditions, such as teacher burnout, followed by two additional years at no pay, if desired.

Although my wife was making every effort to keep herself and the two boys hidden, she was still showing up for bimonthly mediation sessions at the courthouse, during which we would never actually see each other.

So it didn’t take long for me to pony up ¥85,000 for a new team of private investigators to follow her home after one of those sessions. Although this new team came highly recommended on websites and by others in the left-behind-parent movement, my disappointment continued upon receiving the written report of the surveillance: “At 1709 hrs, the train stopped at ——— station to meet the express. (Ms. Cory) stayed in the train and seemed not to transfer to the express. At 1711 hrs, the express arrived at the station and right before the express’s door closed, (Ms. Cory) suddenly jumped out of the train and into the express. At the same time, the investigator jumped out of the train, but before the investigator could jump into the express, the doors had closed and the express had started running.

“Investigators missed (Ms. Cory) this time, but both investigators are clearly sure that (Ms. Cory) did not detect the existence of the investigators. This means that (Ms. Cory) probably assumes tailing by someone regularly, or if she detected the investigators, she has been trained and/or advised by a pro.”

Adding this ¥85,000 to the ¥261,650 that I had already spent on investigators brought my new total to ¥346,650.

After her one year of leave at 80 percent pay ran out, my wife returned to work, and I hired a third private investigator that one left-behind-parent website claims “many users rave about.” The charge was ¥50,000 up front and ¥50,000 on success. After almost two months of no success, I received the following message from the lead investigator: “Due to the pricing system, I will take care of your case in my vacant time while handling other cases at the same time. I’ll give you an update on any developments.” As an incentive, I offered an additional ¥50,000, for a new total of ¥100,000 payable on success, and out of frustration approached a previously used firm, offering it ¥120,000 payable only on success. This second team accepted the offer and found the boys on their third attempt a few days later.

Although I do not have physical custody (kangoken) of my sons, I still have full legal custody (shinken) of them, so I contacted the boys’ school to arrange a meeting with the vice principal. The vice principal contacted the mother, who of course strongly objected to any meeting between the vice principal and me. The vice principal then said that because the physical custody holder had asked the school not to disclose any information about the boys, the school would have no choice but to obey her request.

I then contacted the board of education, which concurred with the vice principal’s decision. Finally, my own lawyer piped in: “Actually, the kangoken holder can demand the school not to disclose any information about the children to the other parent even if the other parent has shinken.”

My now 14-year-old daughter has not seen her brothers since her rescue in April 2010, so I took her over to her brothers’ residence one weekday afternoon to deliver a birthday card she had made for the older boy. Even though there are no restraining orders against me, the mother was away, and I itched to see my sons, I stayed two blocks away as my daughter went to the second floor of the apartment building and rang the doorbell.

No one ever responded, but as my daughter was walking away from the building, a policeman rounded the corner like he was in a mad dash to win stage six of the Tour de France. He screeched to a halt in front of the building and raced inside. We observed from a distance, and then calmly walked away disappointed.

My daughter and I are moving on with our lives, but daily annoyances still continue. After abducting the children, my wife requested the post office to forward her mail to her parents’ home. As can be guessed, the post office occasionally makes mistakes, delivering her mail to me and apparently mine to her. Monthly credit card statements, salary summaries, financial papers and renewal notices occasionally do not arrive. During a visit to the post office to complain, I was told that the post office would “do their best” to correct the problem.

A year after my wife had left the home, the problem continued, so I visited the post office again, wondering why the mail-forwarding request did not expire after a year. I was then informed that it indeed had expired, but she had renewed it, which she can continue to do yearly in perpetuity from any known residence of mine, till death do us part.

Richard Cory is a pseudonym. Japanese translations of the three previous Cory Zeit Gist articles can be found atwww.japaneseforjustice.com. Send comments and ideas tocommunity@japantimes.co.jp