https://japantoday.com/category/national/Foreign-divorced-parents-fight-in-vain-for-child-custody-in-Japan?

 

Foreign divorced parents fight in vain for child custody in Japan

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By Karyn Nishimura-Poupee

Emmanuel, Stephane, Henrik and James come from very different backgrounds, but they share the same painful experience of battling Japan’s legal system — in vain — for access to their children after divorce.

Once married to Japanese women, they say they were prevented from contact with their children when their relationships disintegrated, sometimes even after court rulings in their favor.

Tough laws and patriarchal cultural norms that overwhelmingly see mothers granted sole custody after a divorce — 80 percent of the time, according to official figures — mean that fathers rarely see their children again.

Frenchman Emmanuel de Fournas has spent years battling for access to his daughter after his Japanese ex-wife moved back to Japan.

Despite winning a court order in France and filing a case under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in September 2014, he is still fighting for the right to see his daughter.

“I thought I could benefit from the clear rules of The Hague Convention, but… they aren’t respected in Japan,” he told AFP.

“I’ve lost everything, my savings, my job,” he said tearfully. AFP was not able to contact the mother.

His experience is not unusual.

Henrik Teton from Canada and James Cook from the United States have similar stories to tell.

“What kind of justice system is it if decisions are not implemented? There is room to do more and better,” says Richard Yung, a French senator who came to Japan to plead the cases of several French parents.

Although Japan has signed The Hague Convention designed to prevent a parent from moving a child to another country and blocking access for the former partner, Tokyo demonstrates “a pattern of noncompliance” with the pact, according to the U.S. State Department.

For foreign parents, most often fathers, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child,” said Nahoko Amemiya, a lawyer for the Tokyo Public Law office.

Even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

With opinion divided on what causes the most trauma to children, the longer a child is separated from one parent, the more reluctant authorities are to intervene, citing a “principle of continuity”.

“It’s not that Japanese courts favor the Japanese parent, it’s that they favor the ‘kidnapper,'” who is living with the child, said John Gomez, founder of the group Kizuna, which advocates for parents separated from their children.

Japan’s government defends its record, saying most of the 81 cases filed under The Hague Convention since 2014 have been settled.

“The majority of the cases in which we intervened have been resolved, but we are aware of six or seven where the return decision could not be implemented,” said Shuji Zushi, a foreign ministry official.

“In these cases, there is a very strong conflict between the two sides and that leads to media attention or political action,” he said.

Stephane Lambert spent years fighting to see his son after his wife and child moved away from their home in Japan — a case not covered by The Hague convention.

“The Japanese police don’t do anything in this kind of case,” he said. “On the basis of a court ruling, I saw my son for a total of 14 hours for the whole of the following year, and not at all after that, because my wife refused the visits. I can’t think about my son anymore. Looking at a photo of him tears me apart. I’ve learned to forget him.”

There are some signs of change: a panel of experts met in June to discuss new ways to enforce court orders, as well as the issue of joint custody and changes to the law.

But regardless of changes to the law, the pain of parental separation is always traumatic — as demonstrated by the case of Joichiro Yamada, who was 10 when his Japanese father and American mother split up.

“My dad told me: You live with me now,” the 20-year-old told AFP, crying at the “horrible shock” of being separated from his mother. “I spent a year with him. I wanted to go back to my mother. A year felt like an eternity.”

© 2018 AFP

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https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2018/06/03/issues/left-behind-dads-last-resort-impeach-japans-supreme-court-judges/#.WxgZhy-ZNsM

 

Left-behind dad’s last resort: Impeach Japan’s Supreme Court judges

BY COLIN P.A. JONES
JUN 3, 2018

James Cook is relentless.

His four children were abducted to Japan from Minnesota by his Japanese wife in 2014. This was after Japan acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, so he might have had hope in the early days.

Using the baroque procedural regime the Diet passed for the sole purpose of implementing the Convention, he sought a return order for his children in the Osaka Family Court. The court granted a return order, but only for the younger two — twins, both 7 at the time — not the older pair, who were 12 (and also twins). In doing so, the judge demonstrated what many of us in this area already know: that family court judges — even those tasked to a Hague court — don’t have a [bad word]-ing clue about children or what is good for them. Basic family law common sense says you don’t separate siblings, particularly when they have already been deprived of one parent.

Maybe the judge was deliberately trying to foist this case on a higher court. In any case, cutting the babies in half didn’t work and both Cook and his estranged wife appealed.

To its credit, the Osaka High Court then issued a return order for all four children (golf clap). Then came the efforts to enforce this order. These can be frustrated by a “taking parent” (as they are known in Hague parlance) simply not cooperating.

This is because the rules around enforcement of such orders are literally designed to ensure they will only work if the taking parent and the children involved play along. Sometimes they do and it is succcessful, but in this case it did not. The only sanctions for not cooperating are financial, and collecting those is similarly problematic. Last month the U.S. State Department cited lack of enforceability as a factor in describing Japan as showing a “pattern of noncompliance” just four years after it signed the convention.

It also probably didn’t help that the process is also allowed to facilitate alienation of the left-behind parent by the taking parent. Cook had virtually no contact with his children during this time, which of course makes it easier to get kids to say they want to stay in Japan to authority figures when necessary.

Cook’s wife appealed the high court ruling to the Supreme Court but lost. From there, you might imagine it would be just a matter of pursuing the enforcement process persistently enough until it paid off — maybe.

One more bite of the apple

However, Japan’s Hague implementing statute includes a procedure for moving for a new hearing, even after appeals are exhausted. This is odd, since the point of the convention is to get children back expeditiously, not give the taking parents as many bites at the apple as possible.

Cook’s wife petitioned the Osaka High Court to reconsider the return order, essentially arguing that he had been rendered insolvent by the long legal struggle she had triggered and was not capable of looking after the children in the U.S. The court bought it and rescinded the return order — conveniently ignoring that (according to his impeachment petition) she also owed him close to $100,000 in fines for noncompliance with earlier enforcement orders. Cook appealed to the Supreme Court and lost, thereby establishing a nice road map for future abductors.

I had thought this meant “game over” for Cook, as it sadly does for so many other parents, Japanese and foreign alike, who lose contact with their children in Japan through the nonfeasance or even abetment of the nation’s courts, Hague Convention notwithstanding. But did I mention Cook is relentless?

In April of this year he filed a petition with the Judge Impeachment Committee of the Diet — against the five Supreme Court judges who upheld the Osaka High Court’s Mulligan.

Windmills may also be involved, but the quixotic quest for justice by people who could do other things with their time is where a lot of important law comes from. The judges will never actually be impeached, for reasons I will get to, but power to Cook for hammering at every crack as hard as he can.

Obscure, barely used process

Judicial impeachment is a U.S.-style separation-of-powers check-and-balance that was incorporated in Japan’s Constitution. Article 64 of said Constitution requires the Diet to set up an impeachment court for the removal of judges, and Article 78 protects judges from removal other than by impeachment or for reasons of mental or physical incapacity.

Impeachment is a two-stage process. First there is a Judge Impeachment Committee comprised of members of both houses of the Diet that reviews petitions for impeachment in nonpublic proceedings. Those it deems worthy are referred to the Judge Impeachment Court, which is also comprised of members of both chambers.

Not a lot of petitions are considered worthy of referral to the court. From 1948 through the end of 2017, the committee had received petitions complaining about 19,814 judges (the actual number of petitions is much, much larger, since the committee statistics treat multiple complaints about a particular judge as a single incident). Of these, most were filed by regular citizens, a much smaller number by lawyers and others. The majority cited “wrong decisions” as the grounds for the petition. Of course, impeaching judges for rendering a decision one party doesn’t like would see all of them out of a job. Unsurprisingly, most petitions don’t go anywhere, but still, in 70 years the commission has referred only nine judges to the court for trial and “suspended” prosecution of seven others.

The summaries of cases of suspended impeachment on the committee’s website are revealing. Examples of judicial behavior deemed egregious but still worthy of mercy include: switching judgments already rendered in order to hide a mistake (1953); failing to shush a group of defendants calling for a moment of silence to commemorate the death of Stalin (1954); appearing to have agreed with police and a mayor, over drinks, to fix a bribery case against the mayor (1954); and churlishly allowing a “private letter” from a senior judge not involved in a constitutional case recommending how the case should be decided (1965 — the senior judge never got even a suspended impeachment, of course).

Supremely suspicious math

So what about the nine cases referred to impeachment? First there are two from 1948, both involving judges caught dealing in the black market. Possibly because everyone needed to do that to survive the deprivation of the postwar period, both were acquitted.

The remaining seven cases all saw the offending judges losing their jobs, for the following transgressions: doling out blank signed warrants; being entertained by a party to a case; pretending to be a top prosecutor in order to call the prime minister and providing a tape of the resulting conversation to the press; accepting gifts from a lawyer; using child prostitutes; stalking a female court employee; and using a cell phone to take pictures up a woman’s skirt on a train. Two other judges were also recently busted for similar behavior, but since they were on secondment to the Ministry of Justice and technically prosecutors at the time (separation of powers!), they could not be impeached but lost their jobs through other procedures.

The Judge Impeachment Act enables the Supreme Court to file a petition for impeachment if it discovers a judge behaving badly. This may seem perfectly reasonable, but the fact that the number of times the Supreme Court has done this (eight) is almost identical to the number of impeachments that have occurred is interesting. The records of impeachment trial available on the impeachment court websites do not show who brought the complaints resulting in referrals or impeachment. Yet it would arguably be bad for the system if it turned out the Supreme Court bringing a complaint determined whether impeachment actually happened.

Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine that being the easy path for the Diet member “judges” on the impeachment court: “Hey, if the Supreme Court wants to impeach him, he must be guilty.” After all, the same logic seems to apply in criminal cases: “Prosecutors wouldn’t be prosecuting him if he wasn’t guilty” — 99.9 percent conviction rate, anyone?

The Supreme Court bureaucracy already has numerous tools for sanctioning naughty judges. These include administrative tools such as formal cautions, postings to isolated branch or family courts, or simply not recommending them for reappointment at the end of the constitutional 10-year term all but those on the Supreme Court serve. Above this there is an entire internal trial system that can be used to discipline misbehaving judges or even remove them if they are found mentally or physically unfit.

That the impeachment court might simply be functioning as a top-level disciplinary tool does not say much for separation of powers. Nor, of course, does the fact that while the impeachment commission members may be Diet members, its administrative functions are performed in part by judges on secondment from the judicial court system.

So anyway, this is why the likelihood of Cook’s petition to impeach five judges at the very top of this system has zero chance of success. But at least it was accepted. Although the Judge Impeachment Act says “any person” can file a petition, the impeachment committee website says one from a foreign national will first be reviewed and, if it has merit, submitted by the committee on its own authority.

Such pointless discrimination clothed in technicality is perhaps just another indicator of why expectations about the Hague Convention should continue to be set low.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/04/11/lawmaker-u-s-needs-pressure-japan-comply-international-child-abduction-laws/508880002/

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

“We hope that the State Department will do its job and implement the Goldman Act,” Smith said. “We hope that the Trump Administration will be different than the last.”

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/05/01/issues/three-years-japan-signed-hague-parents-abduct-still-win/#.WQkWUBiZPVo

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Three years after Japan signed Hague, parents who abduct still win

BY 

SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

As he sat waiting in a van near his estranged wife’s family home in Nara, where his four children were living, James Cook felt very alone. It was an emotion he’d become all too accustomed to in the years since his wife had taken the children on a holiday to Japan and never returned, leaving him the sole inhabitant of their former family home in Minnesota.

“I was alone in our family’s home,” Cook says. “Alone with our children’s rooms just as they left them on July 13, 2014. My location was different, but the feelings of being all alone were the same.”

Meanwhile, at the his wife’s family home just across the road, the most important thing in Cook’s life — whether or not he would be reunited with his children — was being determined in his absence. It was Sept. 13, 2016, and after years of seemingly endless court motions, filings, petitions, decisions and appeals in both the U.S. and Japan, finally, in theory at least, he would have his children — two pairs of twins, now aged 9 and 14 — returned to him.

Through the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, Cook had successfully petitioned to have his children returned to their home in the United States and a “return order” had been issued by the Osaka High Court. However, the children’s mother, whose name is being withheld out of consideration for the children, was still refusing to hand the children over, so the case had moved to the final “direct enforcement” phase.

The day before, Cook and his mother, who had come with him to Japan to help with the children, met with officials from the Japanese Central Authority (JCA), the Foreign Ministry agency responsible for handling Hague-related matters, at Nara District Court to formulate a strategy to ensure the handover of the children.

“Maps of streets and the neighborhood with locations of each group were displayed on the large conference table in the NDC conference room,” Cook recalls. “It looked very well planned and gave me a sense of hope that we might be successful.”

Cook and his mother departed their hotel in Osaka before dawn to make the 5:25 a.m. train that would take them, accompanied by their lawyers, to Gakuen-mae Station in Nara.

At a rendezvous point, Cook’s party met with JCA officials, got into a van and waited for instructions. Shortly after, a call came through to Cook’s attorney that Nara court enforcement officers had approached the house and confirmed that Cook’s wife and the four children were present. At 6:55 a.m. they entered the building.

While Cook and his mother waited in the van, a total of 17 people were now present at the Cook’s wife property just down the street: Cook’s wife, the four children, their Japanese grandparents, two police officers, Cook’s two attorneys, a JCA official, two JCA-appointed psychologists, a Nara court bailiff and two officials from the U.S. consulate in Osaka.

At around 8 a.m., Cook’s attorney delivered the news that the children were very upset and did not want to see him, although later they did agree to see Cook’s mother. Cook was left alone in the van with his thoughts.

At 10 a.m., Cook’s mother returned looking “very traumatized,” but he still believed that finally, his turn to see the children must have arrived. “My emotions were welling up and I was putting on my emotional armor in preparation. As I looked up to find my way out of the van, I was stopped by a sad look on my attorney’s face. She told me our children still refused to see me and that NDC officers had called off enforcement already. I was a block away for three hours from my children, waiting for my turn. I was in shock and just sat in my seat.”

Shackled by legal limits

Three years have passed since Japan became a signatory to the Hague Convention, which is designed to ensure the timely return of children to their country of residence after abduction by one parent to another member country.

The Foreign Ministry’s Hague Convention Division is quick to point out that of the requests to repatriate children from Japan made in the first two years after signing the convention, about 90 percent have been resolved. But the details of how these cases were “resolved” are less clear, as judgments are not published and the ministry will not comment on specific cases.

According to the ministry, of the 68 requests to return children to a foreign country under the convention in the past three years, 18 have resulted in returns. Twelve more requests were “dismissed,” 19 have been “settled not to return the child to a foreign state” and another 19 cases are still open. In other words, just under 30 percent of requests for the return of children made in the past three years have resulted in children leaving Japan.

The ministry confirmed that in two cases during the first two years of Japan having signed the Hague, direct enforcement was carried out. It added that there had been a “limited number of cases in which the children’s release has not been achieved” through direct enforcement, without offering exact figures. Based on these unsuccessful attempts, the Hague Convention Division said by email, “We will keep monitoring these cases and continue to review our implementation of the Hague Convention closely as necessary.”

In its 2016 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government concluded that “Japan failed to comply with its obligations under the Hague Abduction Convention in the area of enforcement of return orders.” Citing a case in which a Japanese return order issued in early 2015 was still unresolved by the end of the year, the report raises concern that there may be “a systemic flaw in Japan’s ability to enforce return orders.”

Bruce Gherbetti, a director with the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion nonprofit organization, believes that failed direct enforcement procedures are inevitable considering the legal limitations placed on officials charged with carrying them out.

“They are following … Japanese domestic law, which is tied to the Hague Convention, and they are doing everything within their power, but their power is so extremely limited that … they are either requesting of the taking parent or requesting of the abducted child that they come voluntarily,” he explains. “So it is essentially asking permission of the kidnapper in order to enforce the return order. I mean it is a court order, yet they are begging and pleading.”

Under domestic legislation introduced to help Japanese authorities implement Hague returns, the only physical contact permitted is for a court bailiff to restrain the abducting parent if he or she tries to stop the child from voluntarily leaving.

Last year, the justice minister asked an advisory panel to look into revising the Civil Execution Law to set down specific procedures for enforcing court orders on the handover of children between divorced parents. The government is expected to submit a bill based on the committee’s findings next year.

However, Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, doubts this process will result in more Hague returns. “I think experts expected the enforcement procedures adopted for Hague cases would ultimately become the standard for domestic cases as well. So I don’t expect much more than that. I certainly don’t expect it to result in any improvements in enforcement of Hague return orders,” Jones says. “Absent a significant change of policy — starting to impose criminal sanctions for noncompliance, for example — the basic limits on how to forcefully transfer ‘possession’ of a child without harming the child physically or emotionally will always apply, and taking parents will continue to be able to effectively use the children as ‘human shields’ against the judicial process.”

Time is on the abductor’s side

Gherbetti believes time is a critical factor in abduction cases, and this issue is at the heart of Japan’s failure to successfully return abducted children.

The Hague treaty “calls for six weeks of adjudication because they don’t want the child held outside their habitual residence longer than that,” he says.

Gherbetti says that although the international standard for Hague returns tends to be closer to six months than six weeks, in Japan the process often takes considerably longer — around 18 months or more — giving the abducting parent time to bond with the children and acclimatize them to their unfamiliar new surroundings.

Gherbetti blames an over-emphasis in Japan on the mediation portion of the convention for drawing out the process.

“So, similar to their domestic system, they try to have an amicable resolution,” he argues. “They much prefer mediation and an agreed-upon solution than an actual court order.”

Article 13 of the Hague Convention outlines situations where signatory states are not bound to order the return of a child. One such situation outlined in Clause B of the article is when “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

When crafting domestic legislation to handle Hague cases, Japan’s lawmakers “came up with a document that allows them to greatly expand the 13B grave-risk category, and they have created a number of loopholes that ensure they don’t actually have to be in compliance with the convention,” Gherbetti says. “The ‘grave risk of return’ is originally intended for situations where you have a child abuser — you are not going to return a child to someone who has physically or emotionally, etc., abused that child and there is clear evidence of such. To say that someone has habituated to the new environment doesn’t fall under the original intention of 13B. That is for certain.”

Parental alienation syndrome

On Sept. 15, two days after the unsuccessful attempt to enforce the return order in the Cook case, a second direct enforcement attempt was carried out at his estranged wife’s house.

This time, Cook’s two youngest children were away on a school camping trip, but Cook was allowed into the house on the condition he would not take the children back to the U.S. that day. Cook says he spoke to his two older sons from a distance, although did not actually see them, as they were hidden elsewhere in the house.

Cook says the boys called out “You’re not my father anymore,” “I don’t want to know you” and “Can’t you see we are happy here and don’t want anything to do with you anymore?”

Cook believes his wife and her family deliberately turned the children against him, a classic case of parental alienation syndrome. He also thinks they coached his children to make these types of statements, which are similar to those they used in interviews with court officials during the mediation process.

Noriko Odagiri, a professor of clinical psychology at Tokyo International University, says that although she is unable to comment on specific cases, the risk of children who are victims of parental abduction developing parental alienation syndrome is very high, and children up to the age of 12 are especially vulnerable.

Odagiri says this condition, which she calls a form of “brainwashing,” develops due to the material circumstances the child is forced into, and also the behavior and attitudes of the taking parent. She adds that it is a violation of the will of the child. “The child has no choice because they are dependent on the alienating parent both financially and emotionally,” Odagiri says. “They come to believe the alienating parent is the best parent and they can’t live without them.”

Odagiri believes this is a form of child abuse that can have a serious, long-term negative impact on mental health that can remain through adulthood. “When they grow older they recognize the whole map of their life and what happened to them as a child,” she says.

Cook’s wife failed to comply with a Minnesota court order to surrender the children’s passports to the U.S. Consulate in Osaka by April 7 and release them into Cook’s care by April 23. Cook flew to Japan and was present at the consulate in the hope that he would be reunited with his children. But again, he left alone.

Cook is appealing a decision made by the Osaka High Court in February to revoke the earlier judgment granting him the return of his children, based on its opinion that Cook lacks the means to support the children in the U.S. He was granted the right by that court to take his appeal to Japan’s Supreme Court and is now preparing arguments.

“I am a loving parent and a loving parent never gives up, never gives in, never manipulates their children and, above all, recognizes that their children possess the same human rights as they do,” he says. “Children are not property, children love both their parents and a part of a child dies when they are denied the other parent.”

The Japan Times made a number of attempts to contact Cook’s wife for comment by telephone but she could not be reached, and no replies to emails sent to her address were received. An attempt was also made to reach her through her lawyer, Tomoko Kamikawa. Kamikawa declined to comment and said she was unable to assist with contacting her client, because she was not representing her in relation to her communications with the media.

Loving from a distance

Paul Halton’s children were abducted to Japan from the U.K. by his Japanese ex-wife in 2014, a year after the couple divorced. Dual custody of the three children was awarded in the English courts during divorce proceedings.

The courts also stipulated that the children should live in the U.K. and placed a travel embargo on the mother taking the children to Japan that applied until the country implemented the Hague Convention. Japan signed the convention on April 1, 2014, and in August of that year the children were abducted. On March 31, 2015, the Osaka Family Court ruled that the children should be returned to the U.K. under the Hague Convention . The mother’s appeal was rejected three months later and a return order was issued by the courts.

After Halton’s ex-wife continued to refuse to comply and return the children to the U.K., an order for “indirect enforcement” was carried out. Indirect enforcement, a mandatory part of the Hague return process, involves attempting to make the abductor pay fines to the other parent, usually ¥5,000 per day per child. This step must be carried out before direct enforcement is attempted. Halton says he never received any money from the mother, as she was able to avoid making payments by claiming welfare and thereby obtaining beneficiary status.

With two years having passed since he’d seen his children — now 12, 10 and 7 — Halton decided to take the next step and proceed with direct enforcement. This was attempted on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 of last year.

Officials and social workers were unsuccessful in executing the return order. However, they did manage to persuade his ex-wife to let Halton take the children for a day trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka a few days later, which he says was “a fantastic moment to spend some time with the children.”

A very special day for the four of them wrapped up at a branch of the children’s favorite Italian chain restaurant near the drop-off spot.

“Dinner again was wonderful, full of memories”, Paul recalls. But, he says, “I could now feel every second pass as drop-off time approached.”

Halton says he was tempted not to hand the children back at the end of their day trip, as he had the backing of both the Japanese and British governments to legally return home to the U.K. with his children. “But what would that do to my children?” he asks. “I couldn’t force them, rip them from their mother and for a second time turn their world upside down.”

Halton says that since this visit the situation has improved a little. Skype chat sessions have resumed, and gifts and cards to the children in Japan seem to get through, but the situation is still very fragile and out of his control. He and his ex-wife are supposed to be negotiating long-term, fixed arrangements about contact with his children, but no real progress is being made.

“Since I’ve reached the end of the current legal road, I fear that the children will have to grow up without me in their lives,” Halton says. “I hang on to the hope that one day my ex-wife will agree that the children and I can visit each other, at least in that I will have a few weeks a year to help them grow and learn, as a father should be doing.

“It’s a horrible reality to think that I will miss my three kids’ childhoods,” he says. “The next time I see them could be when they’re old enough to break free from their mother and independently seek me out, by which time they will be adults potentially with careers and families of their own. We’ll know each other but we won’t be close as nature intended.

“The likelihood is that they will remain in Japan for the rest of their lives and so even my unborn grandchildren will be distant and possibly unknown to me,” Halton says. “This is a thought that haunts my everyday life and I doubt will ever fade.”

Halton’s father, Richard, says that although parental child abduction hurts the children most of all, and then the left-behind parent, many others who were connected to the children are also deeply affected.

“Both I and Grandma find that it isn’t the same with these three small faces missing, and I know that other family members feel the same. The other children, their cousins, wonder where they’ve gone and why. We all feel a pervading sense of loss. We know that the children are safe but we never see them. Are they truly happy?” he asks.

Richard adds that the situation is made far worse in the case of parental child abductions because the “family that tries to correct the wrongs done has to contend with official indifference and inaction” and also bear a considerable financial burden in the hope of seeing the children again. “We are supporting our son Paul emotionally and financially in his quest, but the system is loaded in favor of the abductor and we have all come to the conclusion that the Hague Convention is an expensive waste of time.”

Your comments and Community story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

 

http://www.kaaltv.com/article/stories/S4447812.shtml?cat=10728
April 07, 2017 05:27 PM

A Maple Grove man is asking the Trump Administration to pressure Japan to give his children back.

James Cook was in Washington D.C. Thursday fighting for his kids.

He testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. They’re investigating international treaties to return children abducted by a parent.

Cook’s wife took their four kids to Japan in 2014. He has been awarded custody, but can’t get them back.

Cook told the congressional committee he hopes Vice President Mike Pence will help when he visits Japan in late April.

“I hereby respectfully request that Vice President Mike Pence speak with these Japanese officials and ask them to have Japan meet their international obligation to comply with the Hague convention and return our children to their habitual residence in Minnesota,” he said.

“Excuses may be offered why they cannot, but I know Japan will force their return if required.”

Cook said Congressman Erik Paulsen has been supportive of his efforts.

“This is a situation no parent or child should ever have to go through, and I completely sympathize with James and his children during this trying episode,” Paulsen said in an emailed statement.

“My office and I have been exploring various channels to reunite James with his four kids and hope we can help the Cook family reach a resolution soon.”

The issue of international family abduction is complicated. And it’s something many don’t hear much about.

Cook has been working with Jane Straub from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to figure out how to get his children back.

The last time he saw them was 2015.

“I have two sets of twins,” he said. “I have 14-year old-boys and I have a 9-year-old boy and girl.”

Cook said his wife Hitomi Arimitsu took the children to see her family in Japan in September of 2014, then stopped communicating with him.

He showed court rulings he’s won locally and internationally, including Japan, that give him custody.

“So (in) total (I’ve) probably won 10 cases up to this point,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached Cook’s wife Hitomi Arimitsu in Japan.

She said international child abduction is not what is going on in this case. She claims she and James had an agreement she would take the children to Japan.

“I have made numerous attempts to facilitate contact between him and the children,” Arimitsu said.

“James does not take advantage of any of them. I want them to have a relationship with their father. Regardless of my disagreements with him regarding our marriage, I think it is important for him to be in their life.”

Arimitsu’s attorney said that in February a Japanese court reversed a previous order about jurisdiction, moving the power to make legal decisions and judgments from Minnesota to Japan.  Cook says Hennepin County court possess jurisdiction over their children, not Japan.  He says is appealing the ruling to a higher court in Japan.

Japan has signed treaties that are supposed to prevent international child abduction.

But Cook said Japan has been non-compliant from the beginning.

He said custody battles in Japan are considered private, and children basically belong to the parent who has them.

“And that’s how they view children, quite honestly – as possessions,” he said. “Not as human beings, but as possessions.”

Straub said a case like Cook’s doesn’t always get the attention in should.

“You know working at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, people think (the) only people that take children are strangers,” Straub said.

“We know parent-child abductions happen. And just because that person is a parent, it doesn’t mean that that child is safe.”

Cook said he won’t give up the fight for his kids.

“It’s important to remember these are four little people,” he said. “Four human beings, four U.S. citizens. They’re literally being held hostage in a foreign land.

“And we have the power as a country to get them back.”

 

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