http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404040015

Child abduction treaty gives hope to parents separated from their kids

April 04, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

American Jeffrey Morehouse has no idea where his son lives, knowing only that the 10-year-old’s address is somewhere in Toyama Prefecture.

His last contact with the boy was when his divorced Japanese wife lived in the United States. He lost all contact after she and her son abruptly moved to Japan.

But Morehouse, who lives in Seattle, is finally taking a big step toward getting in touch with his son again, and perhaps bringing the child back to the United States.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction took effect for Japan on April 1, giving parents overseas, like Morehouse, and in Japan a legal means to visit their children.

The so-called Hague Abduction Convention governs cross-border child custody disputes resulting from broken marriages. Under the treaty, if a marriage fails and the parents start living in separate countries, the decision on who receives parental rights to raise children under 16 falls under the jurisdiction of the country where the family lived with the child before the breakup.

Before Japan signed the treaty in January, a number of high-profile cases surfaced about the plight of overseas parents who had no legal way of even contacting their children taken to Japan by their former spouses. However, Japanese parents are also expressing hopes that the treaty will help them be reunited with their children who live overseas.

A Japanese woman living in Chiba Prefecture last month wrote a letter to the parents of her ex-husband, who are currently raising her 14-year-old daughter in the United States.

“I have the right to meet with my daughter,” the 34-year-old woman wrote.

She later received an e-mail instructing her to never again try to contact her daughter.

The woman was married to an American who worked at a U.S. military base in Kyushu. After they divorced, the ex-husband returned to the United States with their 8-month-old child in 2001 without the mother’s consent and asked his parents to raise the girl.

The mother visited the home of her former husband’s parents in the United States two years later, but she was allowed to meet her daughter only three times.

Five years ago, the ex-husband’s family refused to let her to see the child.

The woman said she expects the Hague Abduction Convention to help her in the battle against her ex-husband and his parents.

“I hope the Japanese government will negotiate (with U.S. authorities) as equals,” said the mother. She plans to use the Foreign Ministry to repeat her demands that her ex-husband’s parents allow her to visit her daughter.

Although cases involving children “abducted” before April 1 will be exempt from the convention, parents can still call for governmental assistance in setting up meetings with their children.

A Canadian man moved to Japan in 2011 to see his three daughters.

His ex-wife had returned to Japan with the children and had rejected all of his requests to visit the girls.

The Canadian said he met his children three times last year without prior appointments, and that he expects the convention to make it easier for him to visit his daughters.

The U.S. State Department said it received 24 applications on March 31 from divorced parents calling for meetings with their children overseas. A number of parents, including Morehouse, visited the State Department that day to request measures to set up visits with their children in Japan.

According to the State Department, 58 cases concerning 80 children unfairly taken from the United States to Japan have yet to be settled, the third highest figure after Mexico and India.

A representative of a group of those visiting parents said meetings with the children will be the first step in getting the children returned.

Paul Toland, a co-founder of Bring Abducted Children Home, a U.S. nonprofit organization calling for the return of children taken to Japan, said he wants the Japanese government to quickly take measures under the spirit of the Hague Abduction Convention.

Toland, himself, on March 31 called on the State Department to work with the Japanese government to set up a meeting with his 11-year-old daughter in Japan.

Beth Payne, director of the Office of Children’s Issues in the State Department, promised that the U.S. government will continue efforts to settle cases reported before April 1 by negotiating with Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Congress is currently discussing legislation to enable the president to impose sanctions on nations that fail to take adequate measures to resolve the child abduction problem. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

One issue of concern among Japanese parents is how courts will weigh domestic violence in deciding if their children should be returned to the nation where the family resided before the divorce or separation.

Under the convention, Japan’s Foreign Ministry will help foreign parents find arbitration organizations for their demands that their children in Japan be returned to them.

If the Japanese parents refuse the demands, the Tokyo or Osaka family courts will decide whether to issue orders for the children to be sent to the country where the family originally lived.

If the courts recognize the existence of serious domestic violence, the Japanese parents will be allowed to refuse to return their sons and daughters to their former foreign partners.

The Hague convention will also cover cases in which both parents are Japanese and one of them takes the child overseas.

Regardless of the parents’ nationalities, cases involving a divorced husband or wife taking a child elsewhere in Japan will not be subject to the treaty.

Under Japan’s Civil Law, parental rights are granted to one parent after they split. Although a divorced couple can discuss visitation rights at the time of the divorce settlement, the decision is not legally binding.

In many cases, the parents take their children elsewhere in Japan without the consent of their former partners.

Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties are currently discussing legislation to address such domestic cases.

(This article was compiled from reports by Satomi Sugihara and Tsuyoshi Tamura in Tokyo and Takashi Oshima in Washington.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/140401/us-fathers-urge-japan-comply-child-custody-treaty

Kyodo News International April 1, 2014 4:16am
U.S. fathers urge Japan to comply with child custody treaty

A group of U.S. fathers urged the Japanese government Monday to comply with a convention for settling cross-border child custody disputes and help them and other American parents reunite with their children living in Japan.

The fathers and their supporters, including a veteran congressman, handed a petition to a minister of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, a day before Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

They were among some 20 people who marched through the U.S. capital holding placards with their children’s pictures and met with a relevant U.S. government official earlier in the day to increase awareness of child abduction to Japan.

The group Bring Abducted Children Home organized the events.

Paul Toland, co-founder of the group, told reporters, referring to Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention, “Today can be a new beginning.”

“But remember this. It’s just the beginning. The ultimate resolution of these cases has not yet been attained,” Navy employee Toland, 46, said.

Toland said he has not seen his daughter for almost 11 years since his wife took their then 9-month-old baby to Japan before divorce proceedings had concluded and custody determined.

His former wife and her mother rebuffed his every attempt to see his daughter, he said. Although he has been the sole living parent since the former wife’s death several years ago, he has no rights to see his daughter.

Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The Hague pact is not retroactive, only dealing with cases occurring after its entry into force. But it can provide assistance to parents seeking visitations, regardless of when they were separated from children.

Christopher Smith, a House of Representative member, joined the people in making the calls on the Japanese government.

“Parents here today whose children were abducted prior to ratification cannot be left behind again,” said Smith, who heads the House subcommittee on global human rights and international organizations.

The fathers came to Washington from across the country, with one flying from as far away as Singapore. Some described Japan as a child custody “black hole.”

The fathers and the supporters, including attorneys, asked the U.S. State Department to help realize reunions with their children in a meeting with Beth Payne, director of the department’s Office of Children’s Issues.

The department received 28 applications, involving some 40 children, from the group on Monday. The office has been working on 58 other cases involving around 80 children as of February 2014, according to a department official.

While the department’s spokeswoman Marie Harf described Japan’s participation in the Hague Convention as “a positive change,” many parents who took part in Monday’s events indicated they have little faith that the Japanese government would help them retrieve their children.

They also said they are worried that cases would be remanded to local family courts, which lack expertise on the convention and have traditionally given custody to mothers. Nor does Japan have reciprocal custody agreement with the United States.

The group’s attorney Stephen Cullen mentioned that 200 more applications will be submitted within the year.

==Kyodo

Copyright 2014 Kyodo News International.

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The following email/information has been received from Paul Toland regarding pro bono legal assistance that may be available to U.S. parents to obtain access to their children in Japan using the provisions of the Hague Convention once Japan ratifies the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Paul is the contact point for this and his email address is pptoland@yahoo.com.

If you wish to have your case listed, the following is the information that should be submitted:

Contact Information
Name:
Address:
Phone Number:
Email Address:

Child/Children information
Child name:
Child Sex: (Male or Female)
Child Birth Date:
Child Abduction Date:
Abductor:
Last known address:

The following is the email from Paul Toland:

Subject: Article 21 Hague Convention Access Application – Requesting your response

All,

Please forgive the length of this email, but it is important to be a thorough and clear as possible. With Japan nearing ratification of the Hague Convention, we have the opportunity to gain access to our children under Article 21 of the Hague, which reads:

“An application to make arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access may be presented to the Central Authorities of the Contracting States in the same way as an application for the return of a child. The Central Authorities are bound by the obligations of co-operation which are set forth in Article 7 to promote the peaceful enjoyment of access rights and the fulfillment of any conditions to which the exercise of those rights may be subject. The Central Authorities shall take steps to remove, as far as possible, all obstacles to the exercise of such rights.
The Central Authorities, either directly or through intermediaries, may initiate or assist in the institution of proceedings with a view to organizing or protecting these rights and securing respect for the conditions to which the exercise of these rights may be subject.”

I know this is not what everyone wants, we want our children returned, but my attorney, renowned Hague attorney Stephen Cullen, has told me that if done properly and en masse, simultaneous delivery of dozens or perhaps hundreds of Hague Access applications in the immediate aftermath of Hague Ratification by Japan would severely test Japan and put them on notice that we’re watching their compliance. Stephen is perhaps one the foremost Hague attorneys in the US (Baltimorean of the Year in 2004, American Bar Association Pro Bono Attorney of the Year 2003, Maryland Trial Attorney of the Year in 2008, etc.) having litigated over 200 Hague Abduction Cases, with well over 100 successful returns. He has VOLUNTEERED to submit Hague Applications for ANY AND ALL JAPAN ABDUCTION CASES PRO BONO.

The plan would be to hold an event in DC shortly after Japan ratifies the Hague, where we march en masse from his office on K Street in DC to the State Department to deliver the Hague Article 21 Access Applications. We would do this march in front of members of the press and garner as much publicity as we can. Additionally we would do a symbolic delivery of the Applications in front of the Japanese Embassy as well (although the actual applications would be delivered from our Central Authority, the State Department, to Japan’s Central Authority). First, though, Japan has to ratify the Hague and Stephen has to prepare the applications.

Questions and Answers:

1. Question: Who can submit an Article 21 Hague Application:
Answer: ANYONE who is a US Citizen and has a US Citizen or dual-national child in Japan that they do not currently have access to. This includes what have historically been referred to as both “Abduction” cases and “Access” cases.

2. Question: Will performing an Article 21 Hague Application affect my ongoing legal case in any way?
Answer: No, if you have Warrants out for the arrest of your former spouse, those warrants still stand. This is simply a request to have access to your child under Article 21 of the Hague.

3. Question: I am American, but I do not currently live in the United States, can I still submit an Article 21 Hague Application to see my child?
Answer: Yes.

4. Question: Will this process subject me to the Jurisdiction of the Japanese courts, and affect the US Court jurisdiction over my case?
Answer: It will not affect your US jurisdiction of your case, but the Japanese court system may be utilized under the Hague in facilitating the access to your child. The extent to which the Japanese court system will be used is really a matter of how the Hague implementing legislation is written in Japan.

5. Question: I am not a US Citizen. Can I participate?
Answer: Yes and no. You cannot file via Stephen Cullen with the US State Department. However, you can file an Article 21 Hague Access application through your country of citizenship, and I highly encourage you to do so to further test Japan’s system.

6. Question: What will this cost me?
Answer: Stephen, whose normal attorney fees are about $800 per hour, is doing this PRO BONO. There will probably only be small costs associated with copying, and filing fees.

So what’s the first step? Stephen has asked me to collect as many names as possible of as many parents who would be interested in filing Hague Article 21 Applications. We are hoping to get at least 50, and if we get 100 that would be a tremendous success. I will collect your information centrally for Stephen and then his office will be contacting you to begin the process. I am not sure if he will begin the process prior to Japan’s ratification of the Hague or after. I will let you know when I find out.

For now, though, please provide some basic information to me so I can collect it for Stephen. Your name, your current address, phone, email address, and the names and ages of your children. Stephen’s office will collect more information after the process begins, but for now, I’m simply trying to get a parent and child head count and contact information.

Please distribute this request as far and wide as you can among the community of US Citizen parents who have had their children taken from them to or within Japan. The more parents we get, the better!

Thank you. Paul Toland