This article was published a few years ago and mentions the cases of two board members of Children’s Rights Council of Japan, David Brian Thomas (who is also co-founder of CRC of Japan) and Michael Gulbraa.

http://www.davidappleyard.com/japan/jp21.htm

Foreigners find divorce means sayonara to kids
— Their Japanese spouses split and courts laugh in their face

By DOUG STRUCK and SACHIKO SAKAMAKI

(This article was first published in the Washington Post, and later in the Japan Times)

It was quiet in the house when Sean Reedy got home after giving exams all day at the university. Too quiet. No cry of “Poppy!” from little Louie, 8, followed by the usual demands of Bunta, 6, and Yuzo, 5, to kick the soccer ball around before dinner.

And too neat, he recalled. The house on that Saturday 18 months ago was immaculate. As though it had been straightened in a final, departing gesture.

He looked quickly in closets. Clothes were gone. Louie’s school backpack — gone. Passports — gone, too.

His Japanese wife took his sons into hiding that day, preempting custody of the boys by simple possession. She could do so confident that the customs and laws of Japan would help her keep the children from their father.

It stunned Reedy, 44, a linguistics professor who had been in Japan for 16 years. Foreign spouses here frequently lose their children when their marriages collapse. There is no shared custody in Japanese divorces, and visitation rights are minimal and unenforceable. The wife gets the children in an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of the cases, according to divorce lawyers, and fathers are expected to drop out of sight.

Although his marriage was not going well, Reedy said, he had no inkling that his children might be taken from him. The school system refused to tell him where they had been transferred, although there was no allegation of abuse. Through her attorney, his wife has let him see his sons three times in 18 months, but he still does not know where they live and cannot contact them. She sued for divorce, and he demanded frequent visitation rights.

“In court, when I said I wanted to see my kids every weekend, they laughed at me,” Reedy said.

Family experts say divorce carries a stigma, so  former spouses avoid seeing each other. The workaholic hallmark of post-war Japan resulted in a clear division of responsibility, they say, in which husbands belong to their job and children belong to their mothers. Mothers take total responsibility for the children — they’re blamed, for instance, if their children get bad marks in school — and are expected to retain that role after divorce.

In addition, some experts argue, children’s loyalties are less divided if the father is not around.

It is rare for Japanese fathers, or mothers,  to fight that tradition. When one parent in a failed marriage is a Westerner who wants continued contact with the children, however, there is little legal help. If a Japanese parent whisks the kids away, as Reedy’s wife did, there is no legal remedy. It is not treated as a crime.

Even if children are taken away from a parent abroad who has legal custody and are brought here, Japan is a haven from international law.

Japan is one of the few developed countries that has refused to sign the 1980 Hague Convention promising to return abducted children to the rightful custody of an overseas parent. So a Japanese parent is not prosecuted for bringing children into the country in violation of a foreign court’s custody order. Japan ranks second, behind Mexico, in the frequency of parental abduction cases handled by the U.S. State Department, a spokeswoman said.

Even as a tenured professor and taxpayer, Reedy found he could get no assistance from the Japanese courts in getting his children back — or even seeing them regularly.

“It’s a big problem, especially for foreign men,” said Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer here who handles international divorces. “The situation is totally different from the United States. There are hardly any cases where my clients are able to see their children.”

And it is a growing problem, as international marriages increase in Japan and the stigma of divorce declines. In 2001, the Health Ministry recorded nearly 40,000 marriages between a Japanese and a foreigner, more than triple the number in 1980. It also counted more than 13,000 divorces of mixed-nationality couples, nearly double that of a decade ago.

Das Pradip gets to meet with his children once a month, for 30 minutes, at a Roy Rogers restaurant
— when his ex-wife bothers to bring them.

She left her husband three years ago with the children, then 5 and 8, for a Japanese man. Pradip refuses to go home to India because he knows he would lose all contact with his children. Instead, he toils at a Tokyo short-order grill, flipping hamburgers and serving french fries.

“As long as I am alive, I will not give up my children,” he said. “I went outside their school and stood outside just to see them walking with their friends. I can’t even say hello to them. It’s so painful.” He asked to dine with them on Father’s Day, but the court said it was “not Japanese culture,” Pradip said. His ex-wife and her attorney declined to be interviewed.

In cases examined for this article, available court papers and interviews with attorneys revealed no finding of physical abuse, and the other spouses or their attorneys declined requests to respond to questions.

David Brian Thomas said he has not seen his son since his Japanese wife and her parents locked him out of their house in 1992. The divorce was overturned by the court on grounds that his wife doctored papers and forged his seal, but Thomas has been unable to see his son, Graham Hajime, who is now 13.

“The court says yes, I have rights to see my son,” Thomas said. “But there’s no method in Japan of enforcement. Technically, I have won, but I have lost. The laws are stacked against foreigners.

“I really love my son. That’s why I’ve tolerated this for so long,” said Thomas, 58, a native of Wales who teaches English in private schools here. “Why don’t I just go away and remarry and live my life? Because I have a son. How would I feel if my father ran away from me? There will come a time when he will ask, ‘Where is my father?’ and I want to be here.”

The first obstacle for foreigners is the recent custom in Japanese divorces for the wife to get the children. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was unusual when, in separating from his wife in 1982, he took custody of his two sons. More typical was the wall of silence that has remained since: His ex-wife has not seen their two children, now 22 and 24, since their divorce, and Koizumi has not spoken to his third son, now 20, who was born after the marriage dissolved.

Visitation rights aren’t part of a court’s divorce order. If the issue is raised, a family court will try to persuade parents to agree voluntarily, but there is no enforcement. Even foreign visitation or custody orders have no standing in Japan.

“I don’t want him to see my daughter,” said a 35-year-old Japanese woman who is violating a U.S. court order granting visitation rights each summer and winter to her American ex-husband. She won custody of her daughter, now 7, in U.S. courts and shuttled between countries to allow him visitation until they had a confrontation two years ago. He is suing to have the court order enforced. But she said she feels protected in Japan, which would not act even if she lost.

Salt Lake City lawyerMichael Gulbraa, 39, has a Utah court order for custody of his two sons, 12 and 13. But his Japanese ex-wife took them to Japan in 2001. Japanese police know where they are, he said, but won’t arrest them.

“They are wanted by the FBI and Interpol, but the (police) say abduction by a parent is not a crime in Japan,” he said in a telephone interview. “I just want my children back.”

Japan does not ratify the Hague Convention because it would have to return such children to foreign spouses, said Toshiyuki Kono, a law professor at Kyushu University. “Politically, there is no strong incentive here to do that,” he said. A spokesman for the treaty division of the Foreign Ministry said the Hague Convention has not been ratified because “we’ve been studying it.”

Japan’s stance that parental abduction is not a crime can change when a foreigner is the abductor. Engle Nieman, 46, was arrested at the Osaka port and spent four months in jail for trying to go home to the Netherlands with his 1-year-old daughter after his wife moved in with her parents.

He was arrested under an old law against trafficking of girls for prostitution. He was prosecuted, but the ex-wife flouts the law, he complained.

“My wife is now hiding somewhere with my daughter. She doesn’t show up for court. My lawyer doesn’t know what to do,” he said. “On schooldays, I go around to the various kindergartens in Tokyo to see if I can find them. It’s terrible.”

Reedy said he was told to forget his three sons and go home to the U.S. Distraught and depressed, he has taken medical leave from his job and returned to California for what he said will be a temporary stay.

“People in the West don’t understand,” lamented Reedy. In Japan, “it has nothing to do with whether the kids would benefit by being with another parent. Once there is a divorce, the line is cut. That’s it.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12358440

Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

By Roland BuerkBBC News, Tokyo

Thousands of Japanese people marry foreigners every year. Many are happy – but if the marriage breaks down the foreign spouse may end up cut out of the children’s lives.

Alex KahneyAlex Kahney often visits the places he used to take his children

Alex Kahney, who works for a medical publisher, still lives in what was once the family home, now nearly bare of furniture but full of memories.

There are photographs of his daughters on the walls of the small four-storey town house in one of the nicer Tokyo neighbourhoods.

Their favourite stuffed toys, a dog and a mouse, are on the back of the sofa – reminders of the little girls, aged nine and seven, who he has not seen for months.

His Japanese wife took them with her, along with much of the contents of the house, when their marriage broke down, and is refusing to let him see them.

Mr Kahney first tried the police.

But when he told them that his wife had abducted their children, they laughed at him.

What makes it more painful is that their new home is just down the road.

Pressure for change

“They’re on a second-floor apartment,” he says. “I can hear them talking inside. I go and stand underneath the balcony listening to them. It’s tough.

“For the first few months I cried, I howled. For half an hour sometimes. I hardly sleep. I’m usually awake most of the night. And I have dreams, I dream about my children every night.”

Lef-Behind Parents demonstratingMany Japanese parents are also campaigning for change

In Japan, the courts normally give custody to one parent after a marriage breakdown and it is up to that parent if they let the other parent have any access.

Many separating couples come to amicable agreements, but it is not unusual for one parent to be cut out of their children’s lives forever.

When the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi divorced, he got custody of his two eldest sons, who have not seen their mother since.

She was six months pregnant at the time, and Mr Koizumi has never met his youngest son.

But now there is pressure for a change in the law.

Every few weeks Alex Kahney joins a demonstration organised by a group called Left-Behind Parents, Japan.

They have lobbied members of the Diet, and on a recent Sunday they marched, more than 100 strong, through the centre of Tokyo.

Among the demonstrators were many Japanese parents.

Courts defied

There are a quarter of a million divorces in Japan every year, which is relatively low by international standards, but a dramatic increase from earlier generations.

Continue reading the main story 

Number of cases

Twelve countries have been urging Japan to sign up to the Hague Convention:

  • US: 131
  • Canada: 38
  • UK: 38
  • France: 30
  • Germany 2
  • Australia, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and Spain – no figures available
  • Belgium and Colombia – 0 cases

It is the cases involving foreigners, though, that are drawing the most attention.

Japan’s customs around divorce have become a diplomatic issue because the country has yet to sign up to the 1980 Hague Convention on child abduction. As a result, Japanese parents who bring their children home after a divorce abroad can defy joint custody orders made by foreign courts.

The British embassy is dealing with 38 cases involving children, other embassies many more.

“There are 12 embassies involved in this,” says David Warren, the British ambassador in Tokyo.

“We have been making frequent representations to the Japanese government. We’ve been saying to them that Japan cannot any longer go on without becoming part of the international legal framework for resolving these cases.”

Abusive relationships

Japan is considering ratifying the Hague Convention.

A newspaper report earlier this month said an announcement could come as soon as the spring.

Continue reading the main story 

‘Women look after the children’

Osamu, who doesn’t want to use his full name, got divorced five years ago and his daughters are now 17 and 14. He sees the younger girl once every two months, the older girl about twice a year.

“I thought about their best interests,” he says. “So I gave in and let their mother have custody.”

Osamu says that at the time of the divorce he thought of splitting up his daughters, with the parents having custody of one each. But he decided it would not be good for them.

“In Japan traditionally men go out to work and women look after children. We tend to think women will be better off taking care of them, especially when they are small.

“Of course, there are exceptions. Maybe the father’s family has a business and needs the next generation to take over.”

Osamu added that men tend to think they can go on, get married again and start a new family more easily than women. From his experience it’s usual for fathers not to see children at all.

But implementation is likely to be a long process.

It would mean a change from the expectation that families should largely work things out for themselves, to the state enforcing agreements on access and child-support payments.

Some people are also worried that the convention could hinder Japanese trying to flee abusive relationships abroad.

Akiko Oshima is a marriage counsellor who has worked as a mediator in the family court.

“These women who come back, do not do it because they want to,” she says.

“They feel this is the only way out. They want their child to be brought up in Japan, and not in the host country where the father is abusive and she has no control over her children’s education, and so forth. Not even, say, getting a job to support herself. This is the problem.”

Alex Kahney spends a lot of time visiting places he went with his children, like the playground near his home.

He says he was a good parent and his daughters were daddy’s girls.

If he is to see them again he must only hope their mother takes pity on him.