Domestic Violence (DV)

Divorce and Child Custody Issues in the Japanese Legal System

Posted on February 7, 2012. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

American View- US Embassy

Colin P.A. Jones
Professor, Doshisha University Law School

Introduction

Professor Colin P.A. Jones
(Photo by Shinchosha)

Japan has developed a growing reputation as a haven for international parental child abduction. Major media outlets in the United States and other countries have brought attention to a number of recent cases of children being unilaterally removed by a Japanese parent from the United States before or after divorce, often in violation of American law and court orders.

Attempts to achieve the return of children taken to Japan through the Japanese legal system tend to be unsuccessful. As a result, some children who were born and raised in the United States have lost all contact with an American parent and other relatives, American friends, and the American part of their heritage as a consequence. The apparent lack of legal remedies for abduction in Japan is due to a number of factors that are discussed in more detail below.

Child abduction as more than just an “international” problem

From the outset it is important to understand that most of the factors which prevent the return of children taken from other countries also affect cases arising entirely within Japan, including some involving Americans married to Japanese nationals and living in Japan, and even the occasional case where both parents are foreign residents of Japan. In these strictly domestic cases also, marital breakdown all too often results in parents losing all contact with their children, notwithstanding the involvement of Japanese courts.

In other words, even though international cases tend to receive more publicity, they merely reflect structural issues in the Japanese legal system which have the effect of limiting the legal remedies of Japanese and non-Japanese parents alike. Thus, just as U.S. and other diplomats have sought change in the way cross-border abductions are dealt with by encouraging Japan to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, a variety of Japanese parents’ rights groups have been seeking better protection of the parent-child relationship after divorce by lobbying for amendments to Japanese family law.

Despite the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and subsequent nuclear crisis in Fukushima, there are encouraging signs that Japan will soon move towards ratifying the Hague Convention. In May of 2011 the Diet also made encouraging amendments to its domestic laws relating to visitation after parental separation. Since these amendments have not yet taken effect (and may have a limited impact), this article will discuss both the law as it was – and had been for decades, as well as the nature of these changes.

The role of law in Japan

The Japanese legal system is based heavily on foreign models – German and French codes and institutions in many instances, but the United States as well in the case of its constitution and many areas of business law. Indeed, it is possible to describe Japanese family law and how Japanese courts resolve child custody issues in terms that make it seem quite similar to the United States or other Western countries. However, the law in Japan is much more “top down” than it is in the United States, where many important doctrines have been built through the ground up through litigation. By contrast, in Japan the law is more likely to be a medium for expressing and exercising authority, and judges (authority figures themselves) are less likely to question the exercise of that authority. The top-down character of Japanese law can be seen in statutes and procedural regimes which preserve maximum flexibility for judges and other government officials in terms of what they may do, while limiting the range of things that they must do.

Is parental child abduction a crime?

U.S. citizen parents whose children who have been abducted to Japan are likely to be told by Japanese officials that under Japanese law it is not a crime for parents to “abduct” their own children. However, there have been instances of Japanese and foreign parents being arrested, even convicted – for kidnapping their own children. Article 224 of the Japanese Penal Code describes the crime of “abduction of a minor” in very sparse terms: “[a] person who kidnaps a minor by force or enticement shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not less than 3 months but not more than 7 years.” An American lawyer reading this would probably seek more information on how the terms “kidnap,” “force,” and “enticement” are interpreted and would probably look to case law for guidance. But court precedents are not likely to be as useful for interpreting statutes such as this, at least not to the same degree as they would in the United States.

As a result, both the characterization of parental abduction as a non-crime and the arrest of some parents for criminal abduction can co-exist as “correct” interpretations of Japanese law. An abduction which disrupts public order (a father grabbing his children off the street) may be treated as a crime, while those which do not (a mother getting on a plane or a train with her children to go live with her parents, or merely refusing to return to the United States after a visit to Japan with the children) probably will not. Japanese law enforcement authorities have a basic policy of not getting involved in “civil disputes” but also wide discretion in deciding if a particular dispute is a civil one or not, meaning that the most important determination about whether a particular case of abduction is a crime or not may be made at the police station rather than the courthouse.

Custody determinations as an administrative disposition

Similarly, with respect to decisions regarding parental authority, custody, and visitation involving children in divorce, there are no statutory guidelines which a court must follow, such as the principle found in U.S. law that frequent and continuing contact between a child and his or her parents after they separate is presumed to be in a child’s best interests. Furthermore, since there is also no Japanese constitutional jurisprudence establishing a fundamental interest in having and raising children or otherwise recognizing a constitutionally-protected dimension to the parent-child relationship, decisions about children made by Japanese judges are essentially a form of administrative disposition made in the absence of law. As discussed below, many of the most important decisions a judge may make about children are likely to be rendered in the form of “decrees” following non-public, non-trial proceedings.

Japanese family court judges thus have tremendous discretion when it comes to making decisions about children and may do so by, for example, completely reversing a foreign custody, refusing to award any visitation to a non-custodial parent, awarding visitation for only a few hours once a year, or ordering the custodial parent to send a few photographs of the child every year in lieu of visitation.

Divorce and child custody as part of a consensual process

In Japan, both divorce and what happens to the children afterwards are presumed in the first instance to be determined through consensual arrangements. Japan’s Civil Code provides for divorce by agreement with judicial divorce being available only when the parties cannot agree and a limited range of grounds for divorce are applicable. Furthermore, unlike in the United States where even a consensual divorce involves court filings and possibly a judicially-approved parenting plan or separation agreement if children are involved, a Japanese cooperative divorce is accomplished by simply filing the relevant paperwork with a local government authority which will reflect the change in marital status and allocation of parental responsibility in the parties’ family registry. Since approximately 90% of divorces are accomplished through this process, courts only become involved in the small minority of cases where parties cannot agree on a cooperative divorce or where there is a dispute over children or other matters arise after divorce, including situations where one parent abducts the child or refuses to allow visitation after divorce.

Under Japanese law, parties seeking a judicial divorce or other judicial relief relating to child custody must first attend family-court sponsored mediation. Mediation sessions take place in a family court mediation room in front of a mediation panel composed of a judge, two mediators chosen by the court, and court personnel. Mediation continues at a pace of about one session a month until the parties agree on a result or the judge decides that further sessions are pointless. Although the court takes the lead in administering the mediation, its primary purpose at this stage is to encourage the parties to agree on a result.

Approximately 8% of Japanese divorces – most of those which are brought into court – are achieved through the mediation process. The remaining 2% are either judicial divorces resulting from litigation commenced after mediation has failed, or divorces by settlement after such litigation has commenced but before a divorce judgment. Therefore, one aspect of divorce proceedings that may be confusing is that there are a variety of procedures which vary depending upon the scope of the court’s involvement and responsibility. There are cooperative divorces which involve no court action whatsoever, mediated divorces and divorces by settlement where the court is involved but not responsible for the result, and judicial divorces where the court is involved and responsible for the final result (technically there are two additional types of divorce which are rare and not discussed in this article). Judicial divorces account for only about 1% of all divorces. These differing procedural regimes are also relevant to child custody proceedings.

Because Japanese law provides for court proceedings which in many cases lead to a result for which the court is not responsible, there may be a significant gap between what U.S. citizen parents expect from family courts and what family courts consider their role to be. A party seeking the return of or at least visitation with a child usually wants the court to “do something” as soon as possible. Since most cases are going to start with mediation, however, the family court may view its role primarily as one of encouraging the parties to agree upon a mediated result. Furthermore, since at the mediation stage the court is supposed to be playing only a supporting role, it may be reluctant to provide interim remedies (including ordering the handover of the child) unless they are clearly in the best interests of the child.

Other aspects of Japanese family law may also come into play at the mediation stage. Although divorce is exceptionally easy in Japan so long as both parties agree to it, obtaining a litigated divorce unilaterally over the objections of one party is exceptionally difficult and time consuming. In addition, just as there is little formal law specifying what should happen to children after their parents separate, Japan’s Civil Code is similarly sparse when it comes to providing for property distribution, alimony, and child support. Accordingly, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to protect the financially weaker party from being divorced on unfavorable terms.

A number of amendments to the Civil Code were made in May 2011, though it is unclear what effect they will have on current family court practice. First, the amendments make it easier for public authorities to temporarily suspend parental authority in cases of child abuse and neglect. Under prior law the only remedy was permanent termination of parental authority. Second, under the amended law, parents seeking a cooperative divorce will be required to provide for visitation arrangements and other forms of contact as well as allocate child-rearing expenses, in each case giving priority to the welfare of their children. If they are unable to do so then a family court may make the determinations in their place. While it may seem a minor change, the fact that visitation is now even mentioned in the Civil Code could be said to represent significant progress, since before this amendment it was nothing more than a judicially-created disposition.

However, it is not clear that courts (as opposed to parents) are required by the new law to make decisions in the best interests of children, or that visitation is presumed to be good for children. Combined with the addition to another part of the Civil Code which imposes upon all parents a statutory duty to act in the best interests of their own children, it is not clear whether family courts will regard the new amendments as being anything other than a codification of their existing practice.

Parental authority and custody

Although determinations relating to children are generally made in the context of divorce proceedings, an important procedural difference emerges if mediation fails. To understand this, however, it is necessary to briefly review the concepts of parental authority and custody. Under Japan’s Civil Code, married parents jointly exercise parental authority over minor children. Parental authority includes both the rights and duties of the parent relating to the care and upbringing of their children, but also the management of the children’s property and the taking of legal actions (such as applying for a passport) on their behalf, or even consenting to the child’s adoption. Because parental authority can be relevant to commercial transactions and dealings with government agencies, it can be confirmed through the family registry system. An extract from a child’s family registry may be required for passport applications or other dealings where proof of the parent-child relationship and the parental authority of the person making the application are required.

Under the cooperative divorce regime, parents simply make a notation on the divorce form as to which parent will retain parental authority over which children after divorce. One significant limitation, however, is that Japanese law does not allow for the formal continuation of joint parental authority after divorce even if both parents agree to it.

Procedurally, court involvement makes custody and parental authority more complicated. This is because it is possible for courts to separate the “care and custody” element of parental authority from the property management/legal representative aspect and award them to different people. Thus, a mother could be awarded custody over the child, who she would live with and raise, while the father would be awarded parental authority (minus the custodial element), which though being reflected in his family registry, would be limited to only the authority to manage the child’s property and engage in legal acts in the child’s name. In reality, this type of split custody is rare. The true significance of a court’s ability to deal with these two elements of parental authority separately is more important for procedural purposes rather than the end result.

Judicial determinations of parental authority are generally only made (or changed) by courts at the time of a judicial divorce following a trial. If divorce mediation fails, the onus is on one of the parties to proceed with divorce litigation. If neither does so the parties will simply remain married under the law but live apart. Parental authority will nominally remain with both parents.

However, with respect to matters relating to the custody portion of parental authority ( i.e., who will live with and raise the child, visitation, child support payments, and whether a taken child should be returned), if mediation fails the court will automatically proceed with making a determination, even if neither party proceeds with divorce litigation. These determinations may also be made (or changed) by courts after divorce, in the case of disputes over visitation after a cooperative divorce, or when a child is abducted to Japan after a divorce has taken place in the United States or elsewhere.

Procedurally this is significant because to the extent they are decided by a judge at all they are likely to be decided through the issuance of a judicial decree after mediation fails. Decrees are issued through “non-trial” proceedings, with very loose procedural and evidentiary requirements. Accordingly, what for most parents is the most important part of the proceedings – the part in which the fate of their children is decided – involves a process which seems like a trial (since there is judicial involvement) yet lacks many of the procedural or evidentiary protections that the average person is likely to expect from a trial.

Decrees can be appealed, and if the case advances to divorce litigation, a judge granting a judicial divorce can also make decisions relating to children ancillary to the divorce. In reality, however, it is probably unlikely that judges will second guess a prior decree on custody issues absent blatant mistakes or a change in circumstances.

Limited enforceability

In cases involving child abduction or interference with visitation, even a complete “win” in court may prove meaningless. Japanese civil law struggles with the enforcement of judgments in many contexts, but it is a problem that is particularly evident in disputes over children. Japanese courts lack marshals with police-like powers that can facilitate enforcing civil judgments. Similarly, Japanese judges do not have broad powers to sanction or imprison recalcitrant parties for contempt of court. Nor is there a mechanism for courts to require the police to become involved in such cases.

The first step in enforcement of a family court decree may be for a family court to issue a “compliance recommendation.” This may involve further inquiries by a family court investigator to confirm the circumstances behind the refusal of the parent having custody to cooperate with visitation. Even if a compliance recommendation is issued, however, there are no sanctions for non-compliance. In fact, compliance recommendations are considered to be a form of casework that is an extension of the courts’ role as a social welfare institution rather than a judicial one. As such, they have no legal force whatsoever.

In terms of actual legal remedies for enforcement, Japanese civil law does not contain any provisions which deal specifically with enforcing orders relating to the compulsory transfer of a child from one parent to another. One remedy is for the court to impose a non-penal monetary fine on a party who refuses to comply with a court order to return an abducted child or cooperate with visitation. However, this type of “indirect enforcement” may be of limited efficacy against parties who do not have a regular income or identifiable assets subject to forfeiture.

In the case of a court order for the return of a child who is young enough that they can be deemed not to have the capacity to form their own intent, it is also possible to seek “direct enforcement” of the order. This involves a district court bailiff attempting to physically accomplish the return of the child. Although the bailiff may request police accompaniment if there is a fear that the abducting parent may become violent, the police will not get involved if there is no crime. The bailiff himself does not have the power to arrest a non-cooperating parent. Thus, although direct enforcement is sometimes successful, it can also sometimes be frustrated by a taking parent through the simple expedient of stubbornly refusing to let go of the child or even just hiding.

Failing any of these remedies, the final arrow in the judicial quiver is habeas corpus. Based on the ancient common law remedy for unlawful detention by government officials, habeas corpus in Japan is used to order an abducting parent to bring the child to court for an inquiry into why they have been “detained.” A parent who refuses to follow a habeas corpus summons and bring an abducted child to court may be subject to imprisonment and/or penal fines. It is thus the only remedy for abduction available to the judiciary where there is the possibility of criminal sanctions for non-compliance.

While it is not uncommon for left-behind parents to immediately file for habeas corpus for children who have been taken to Japan, there do not appear to be any cases where a Japanese court has found the detention of a child to be “significantly unlawful,” even if it involves the violation of a foreign court order or has resulted in criminal proceedings in that country. There have been a number of cases where Japanese courts have both recognized the validity of a foreign court order awarding custody to the foreign parent while refusing to grant habeas corpus relief.

Domestic violence, legislative amendments, and the Hague Convention

The Japanese government is often criticized for appearing to drag its feet on adopting the Hague Convention. As the above discussion shows, however, meaningful implementation of the convention would involve significant amendments to Japanese domestic law. That this process may require a wide-ranging debate is understandable in a democratic society such as Japan.

In the course of the debate over the Hague Convention, one concern that has been expressed repeatedly is how to deal with situations where a Japanese mother residing abroad unilaterally returns to Japan with her children out of fear of domestic violence in the United States or other countries. While domestic violence is a legitimate policy concern, it is also an issue that can be assumed dealt with adequately through the legal system of the United States or other Hague Convention signatories. While it would be easy to view the concerns about domestic violence as primarily reflecting a lack of faith in the judicial systems of potential treaty partners, domestic violence is also controversial in strictly domestic custody cases. Japanese law defines “domestic violence” in exceptionally broad terms and it is often interpreted even more broadly so that not only physical violence, but verbal abuse, psychological “violence,” and even “economic violence” is sometimes included.

It has been suggested by some in Japan that the Hague Convention be signed, but with implementing legislation providing for exceptions that would prevent the return of children in cases involving domestic violence or abuse. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has gone further in proposing that any legislation implementing the Hague Convention, if adopted, not only prevent return in such cases, but also if the taking parent would be subject to criminal prosecution if they returned with the child. Given the expansive definition accorded to domestic violence and abuse, it seems possible that virtually any instance of a child being taken to Japan could be characterized so as to fall into this exception. But this involves speculating on legislation that does not yet exist.

Going forward

As noted in the introduction to this article, recent events in Northeastern Japan will have dramatically shifted the focus of policymakers in Japan. What can be expected in the immediate future in terms of the Hague Convention and further changes to Japanese family law remains to be seen. But natural disasters notwithstanding, Japanese people will continue to get married, have children and, in some cases, get divorced. So long as no changes are made, Japan will also continue to be regarded as a haven for abduction. This would be a sad thing since it is ultimately children – the ultimate resource in Japan, the United States, and everywhere else – who will continue to suffer.


Colin P.A. Jones is a Professor at Doshisha University Law School, a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, and has been admitted to the bar in New York, Guam and the Republic of Palau. He received his A.B. from the University of California at Berkeley, an LL.M. from Tohoku University, as well as a J.D. and LL.M. from Duke University School of Law.

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Put the best interests of children above pride and prejudice

Posted on November 8, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV) | Tags: , , , |

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011  Japan Times

I have written about my story previously to The Japan Times, but this most recent article from Richard Cory (“Left-behind dads take desperate measures,” Zeit Gist, Oct. 4) spurs me to write again.

I am an American parent who, in 1994, abducted my children away from their Japanese father because I could not get any protection from domestic violence (against me, not the children) in Japan. In fact, the general response of the legal system was to ask what I was doing to provoke my husband and to suggest that perhaps I needed to seek therapy.

I was also advised by attorneys that it was highly unlikely that I could obtain custody of the children, despite his abusive behavior and late-stage alcoholism, and ultimately I could find no options other than fleeing Japan.

Leaving the only home they had ever known, as well as the total separation from their father, was a terrible shock for my two daughters, and has affected them into adulthood. To this day I mourn the life we lost, and wish that there had been an alternative.

My preference would have been to stay in Japan, where I had lived for 17 years and felt deeply connected, but this was not possible. Without the protection of an order granting me primary custody, and without support from law enforcement to protect us from violence, we had no way to safely stay in Japan. Sadly, my husband died two years later of his alcoholism, never having been reunited with his children.

What I find most ironic is that in the eyes of the Japanese legal system, I would be viewed as having kidnapped my children (at one point, our local consulate informed me that I could be “detained” if I returned to Japan with the issue unresolved), while a Japanese mother who fled back to Japan with her children would be viewed as having done the necessary thing.

It is time for the Japanese legal system to join the 21st century and start to put the needs of these precious children ahead of prejudice and national pride.

KATHERINE CHIBA

Portland, Oregon

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State Dept. Testifies at Child Abduction HearingSmith: Negotiate MOU with Japan Concurently with the Hague Convention…

Posted on July 29, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Human Rights, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

 

Washington, Jul 28 - The fate of more than 2,400 abducted American children was the emotional topic at a congressional hearing today held by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees international human rights.Top officials of the U.S. State Department explained U.S. administration efforts to return the children to the U.S. A heavy emphasis was placed on Japan, which is not one of the 85 signatory nations of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

It is on behalf of left behind parents –in recognition of the extreme pain they suffer as victims of international child abduction, and in recognition of our own duty as the U.S. government to help bring their children home—that we hold this hearing today,” Smith said. “I believe child abduction is a global human rights abuse—a form of child abuse—that seriously harms children while inflicting excruciating emotional pain and suffering on left-behind parents and families.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.

Smith, who chairs subcommittee on human rights of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said international child abduction occurs when one parent unlawfully moves a child from his or her country of residence, often for the purpose of denying the other parent rightful access to the child. “Left behind” parents from across the country, including David Goldman of Monmouth County, N.J., who Smith helped win a five-year battle to bring his son home from Brazil in December 2009, Chris Savoie, who was arrested by Japanese law enforcement when he attempted to recover his own children in 2009, and other desperate parents.

Japan is the only G-7 nation to not sign the treaty.  Congress is not aware of any case where a Japanese court has issued and enforced an order to return an abducted child to the U.S. In fact, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the European Union, Spain, U.K. & France have all pressed Japan to both sign the treaty and act to allow visitation, communication and a framework, or memorandum of understanding (MOU), to resolve current cases.

I and many others urge the Obama Administration to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Japanese to ensure that the 123 left behind parents are not left behind a second time—this time by treaty promises that won’t apply to them,” said Smith, who traveled to Japan in February with the family of Rutherford, N.J. resident and Iraqi war veteran Michael Elias to meet with U.S. and Japanese officials. Elias’s two children were abducted with the help of the Japanese Consulate in contravention of U.S. court orders in 2008.

Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the State Department, testified that the unaddressed issue of international child abduction to Japan remains a serious concern for the Department of State and the United States Government.

While the Convention will only apply to cases that arise after ratification, we continue at all levels to encourage the Government of Japan to implement measures that would resolve existing child-abduction cases and allow parents currently separated from their children to reestablish contact with them and ensure visitation rights,” Campbell said.

We are prepared to use all necessary political and legal means necessary to facilitate contact and access for parents and abducted children,” Campbell said. “Currently the left-behind parents of children abducted to or from Japan have little hope of having their children returned and encounter great difficulties in obtaining access to their children and exercising their parental rights and responsibilities.” Click here to read Campbell’s testimony.

Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department, told Smith and the human rights panel that the State Department welcomed Congressional support as it urges countries such as Korea, India and Japan to join the Hague Convention.

The prevention and prompt resolution of abduction cases are of paramount importance to the United States,” Jacobs said. Click here to read Jacob’s testimony.

Thursday’s  hearing follows the direct, emotional testimony at a May hearing of left-behind parents, who in most cases have never seen their children again after the abduction.

After returning from Brazil with abducted child Sean Goldman and his left behind New Jersey dad, Smith introduced “The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2011”. The bill, H.R. 1940, would establish an Ambassador-at-Large dedicated to international child abduction, and office within the State Department to aggressively work to resolve abduction cases. The legislation would also prescribe a series of increasingly punitive actions and sanctions the president and State Department may impose on a nation that demonstrates a “pattern of non-cooperation” in resolving child abduction cases.  In September 2010 Smith cosponsored and managed the debate in the House chamber on a similar bipartisan measure, H. Res. 1326, calling on the Government of Japan to resolve the many cases involving American children abducted to Japan. The bill passed 416-1.

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Dispel concerns before signing Hague Convention

Posted on June 16, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Yomiuri Shimbun

When international marriages fall apart, how should cross-border disputes over child custody be handled?

The government is in the process of formulating legislation in preparation for joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets international rules for settling such disputes.

If Japan becomes a signatory to the convention, perhaps as soon as next year, it should be lauded as a step forward. However, in drawing up the legislation, the government must take care to ensure the rights of Japanese people are not being unilaterally compromised.

The treaty bans a parent from taking overseas a child aged less than 16 without the other parent’s permission after their marriage fails.

If a parent demands the return of a child taken without permission from their country of residence, signatory countries are obliged in principle to help resolve the issue.

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Japan being urged to join

This is based on the thinking that it is desirable to settle custody disputes in courts in the country of original residence. More than 80 nations have signed the convention. The United States and European countries have urged Japan to join.

About 100 cases have been reported in the United States in which divorced Japanese spouses returned to their homeland with their children. Because Japan is not a signatory to the convention, the foreign parents find it difficult to see their children, let alone take them back to their own country.

Because of this, U.S. and European judicial authorities ban divorced Japanese parents from taking their children home. Japanese mothers who return home with their kids without the permission of their former husbands are often regarded as “abductors” in these countries.

This problem goes both ways: If children with a Japanese parent are taken overseas without permission, the Japanese parent cannot expect to get any help from the country of their former husband or wife.

If Japan joins the treaty, these disputes will be settled by the two countries concerned based on international rules.

The treaty stipulates nations can refuse to return children if they have been physically or mentally abused, and in some other circumstances. But it makes no mention of domestic violence between spouses.

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Domestic violence fears

Japan had long resisted joining the pact because many Japanese mothers had returned home with their children after being violently abused by their former foreign husbands. These mothers have strong concerns about allowing their children to return to such an environment.

The procedure to decide whether to return a child or children starts at a court in the country where they reside. The government is considering incorporating into a related bill the right to refuse a request to return a child if there are fears they could become victims of domestic violence. This is a sensible move.

After signing the treaty, the Foreign Ministry will be responsible for specifying the whereabouts of children brought to Japan and helping with court trial procedures. This will involve domestic administrative work the ministry is not accustomed to doing. Cooperation among government organs to smooth the process will be indispensable.

Many Japanese mothers feel anxious that trials over custodial rights will be held at a court in their child’s original country of residence. Japanese diplomatic missions abroad will need to introduce them to local lawyers and provide other support.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 14, 2011)

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Domestic violence cases soar 20% in 2010 to record 33,852

Posted on March 10, 2011. Filed under: Domestic Violence (DV) | Tags: , |

Thursday 10th March Japan Today

The number of domestic violence cases police recognized in 2010 soared 20.2 percent from the year before to 33,852, the highest since an annual survey commenced in 2002, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The agency said one of the factors behind the surge is the growing number of victims alerting police, courts and other official institutions at an early stage of the problem, thanks to increased publicity about official measures against domestic violence.

The agency said police intervened in 9,748 cases, up 11.7 percent,  including taking such steps as providing advice to victims or helping to prevent offenders from finding out the current whereabouts of their victims.

Courts intervened in 2,428 cases, a number almost unchanged from a year earlier, by issuing restraining orders or taking other measures.

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How Did Japan Become a Haven for Child Abductions?

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , |

By Lucy Birmingham / Tokyo Monday, Mar. 07, 2011
Click here to find out more!

Like any loving father, Christopher Savoie just wanted to do the best thing for his two kids. In August 2009, his Japanese ex-wife broke U.S. law and abducted their children from his home in Tennessee, moving them to Japan. But when Savoie went to get them weeks later, he was arrested. It didn’t matter that he had legal custody in both countries; that she had violated a U.S. court order or that there was a U.S. warrant issued for her arrest. Nor did the fact that Savoie was a naturalized Japanese citizen and fluent in Japanese make a difference. After 18 days in jail, Savoie returned to the U.S. empty handed and broken hearted. A year and half has now passed, and he is still unable to see his son and daughter, now 10 and 8.

Despite all this, Savoie’s ex-wife is beyond the reach of international law. Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Prevention of Child Abduction, an international accord adopted by 84 nations and aimed at returning abducted children back to the country from which they were taken. Along with an increasing number of international marriages and divorces, child abductions to Japan — the only G7 nation that has not signed the treaty — have been on the rise. In 2009, the State Department ranked Japan at the top of its list in reported abductions from the U.S. among non-signatory nations. “It is our understanding that no U.S. citizen child abducted to Japan has been returned to the United States,” says Paul Fitzgerald, a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo. The issue could tarnish U.S.-Japan relations; as Assistant Sec. of State Kurt Campbell told reporters during a trip to Tokyo in February, “The situation has to be resolved in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan relations continue on such a positive course.” (See pictures of Japan and the world.)

Japan’s antiquated domestic family law complicates matters. In a Japanese divorce, child custody is awarded to only one parent — typically the mother. Visitation can be negotiated but there is no legal enforcement and agreements are often broken. In Japan, it’s not unusual for the non-custodial parent to lose contact with their child, and domestic abductions, when they do occur, are often ignored by the police as a family matter. It’s a devastating scenario for a growing number of fathers residing in Japan — both Japanese and foreign — who have few legal rights to see their children. “Clearly, the best legal scenario is for the children is to be here in the U.S. where each parent would be guaranteed visitation,” writes Savoie by email.

International pressure for Japan to make a change has been mounting. Over the past year, several ambassadors from embassies in Tokyo have met with high-level government officials to urge Japan to sign the convention. A Japanese government panel was set up in January to study the pros and cons, but opposition remains firm at most levels. Japanese lawmakers are worried the Hague Convention does not properly take into account past cases of domestic abuse in demanding a child’s repatriation, or a child’s own right to choose where they live. “This is why Switzerland tried to amend the treaty, even though it is a signatory,” explains Kensuke Ohnuki, a Tokyo attorney who has represented several women who have abducted children from foreign countries to Japan. “They failed. So instead, they made their own new law which enables the Swiss court to refuse the return of a child when it’s against the child’s will.”

On Feb. 22, the Japan Bar Association issued similar Hague recommendations to the government, including a guarantee in domestic law that children not be returned to their country of residence if they had been subjected to abuse or violence. Left-behind parents, including Christopher Savoie, have said the recommendations are draconian and anti-joint custody, in part because abuse is both difficult to prove and is commonly cited as one of the main reasons for abduction.

One of Ohnuki’s clients, who uses the alias Keiko, says she left the U.S. with her child because she discovered her husband was abusing their son. “There were no obvious physical marks so it would have been impossible to prove in court,” Keiko explains tearfully. After consulting a therapist and an attorney in the U.S., she feared getting sole custody as a Japanese citizen would be nearly impossible. “When we were in Japan, my son told me he feels safe, far away from his father… I didn’t really want to leave the U.S. I had a good job and many friends. But I wanted to do what was best for my son.” Keiko is now one of about 50 members of the Safety Network for Guardians and Children, a support group for women who have abducted their children to Japan from various countries. (Comment on this story.)

Finding a internationally recognized legal resolution to cases like Keiko’s will not be easy. But in the meantime, Japanese mothers living abroad who have no intention of removing their children from their families are also beginning to be affected by the problem. Jeremy Morley, a U.S. attorney specializing in Japanese child abductions says that foreign courts are “increasingly ordering Japanese mothers living overseas not to take their children to Japan even for a family visit because of Japan’s status as a renowned haven for international child abduction.”

A winning diplomatic strategy will need teeth to make a difference for everyone involved. “The mantra now is ‘Japan sign the Hague’, but that’s not enough,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith said during a recent trip to Tokyo. The Republican New Jersey congressman, who is also the chairman of a subcommittee overseeing human rights issues, is pushing for a bill that would establish an Office of International Child Abductions within the U.S. State Department to handle cases like these and discuss sanctions against uncooperative nations. “I don’t know what the answer is,” says Keiko. “But we need to find a solution that’s in the best interest of the child.”

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Children caught in international tug-of-war as Japan hesitates to ratify Hague Convention

Posted on March 5, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , |

When an international marriage falls apart, heartbreak can arise when one parent flees to their home country with their child or children without the other’s consent. In Japan, which

has not yet ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, such cases are the focus of intense debate.

The United States and Europe are ratcheting up the pressure on Japan to ratify the Hague Convention, which dictates the return of children to their original country of residence.

What kinds of situations are occurring, and what precautions should people take before marrying? We collected people’s experiences and words of advice.

* * *

“I was just in time,” said a single mother, 37, living in Tokyo, with a sigh of relief.

In 2006, she met and married a French man while she was working at a company in the United States.

However, on top of refusing to work, he was extremely violent to her at home, and declared he would not take care of their child. She decided to move out, taking her 2-year-old son to Japan in 2008 after she found a job at a foreign-owned company.

Due to the cost and bother involved in divorce procedures, she decided to wait for her relationship with her husband to fade away.

But one day, she started receiving numerous e-mails and phone calls from him in which he threatened to have her thrown in jail as an abductor if she did not return their child.

Her lawyer warned her that Japan was moving toward ratifying the Hague Convention, which could mean that her child might be taken back by her husband. She quickly filed for a divorce through Japan’s family court system.

As the woman’s husband would not divulge his contact details, he was consequently regarded by the courts as a missing person. That led to her being granted 100 percent custody of her son, and her divorce was finalized in 2010.

She had also registered her marriage in France, so she spent six months going through that country’s divorce application procedure via the French Embassy.

In the case of another woman in her 30s who got married in a different country in Europe, her husband was abusive to both her and her child. She fled to Japan five years ago, but says, “I can’t give my name because I’m afraid my child will be taken back.”

A 50-year-old woman who married an American man in Japan subsequently divorced him in 1998 because he made no financial contribution to their living expenses.

He gave up custody rights to their two children, aged 2 and 5 at the time, on the grounds that they would be raised in Japan.

However, the man later took the children to the United States without her permission. The woman felt dismayed, because she “had taken care of them 90 percent of the time.”

When she tried to meet her children in the United States, she was arrested by the police for disorderly behavior by a parent with no custody rights.

Following that incident, the woman relocated to the United States so she could fight for custody in court. Her legal struggle has lasted nine years.

Recently, her children’s wish to live with her has been recognized, and she is expected to be granted joint custody of her children in the United States.

“If Japan had ratified the Hague Convention, it wouldn’t have been necessary for me to chase them all the way to the United States,” the woman says.

The Hague Convention states that children taken overseas by one parent without the consent of the other must be returned to their country of previous residence.

If a child’s whereabouts are unknown, signatory countries must assist in tracking the child down. However, the convention cannot be applied retroactively to parents and children who moved overseas before it was ratified.

In contrast to Japan, where one parent loses custody rights after divorce, it is common in Europe and the United States for joint custody to be granted, where both parents retain responsibility for a child’s upbringing.

The proportion of custody held by each parent is always decided in court.

In Japan, marriages and divorces are finalized after the necessary documents are submitted. In other countries, the process varies, and it is necessary for parents to fulfill the requirements of the relevant country.

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare statistics for 2009 showed there were 34,000 marriages where one spouse held foreign citizenship, representing a sixfold increase over the past 40 years.

According to the Foreign Ministry, inquiries received as of January from foreign governments about children abducted to Japan had risen to 100 from the United States, 38 from Britain, 37 from Canada, and 30 from France.

Former United Nations staffer Etsuko Tsukagoshi, 37, who is married to an American and wrote the book “Cross-Cultural Marriage 101″ (Kokusai Kekkon Ichinensei), says: “International marriages take time to rectify once they turn sour. I advise people to make adequate preparations, such as thoroughly studying the laws of their future spouse’s home country.”

Lawyer Mikiko Otani, an expert on international law, gives the following advice: “When you live overseas as a foreigner, you are inevitably in a weak position because of the differences in language and each country’s systems. I’d like people to make themselves aware of the differences with Japan, and to find information from the country itself. If you intend to take flight back to Japan because of violence from your husband, first seek protection from the local police and women’s shelters, and guidance from local specialists. They can also help you to secure evidence and provide necessary advice.”

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Lawyers press for child’s best interest under int’l custody pact

Posted on February 25, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , |

Wednesday 23rd February, 2011 Japan Today

Japanese lawyers said Tuesday they have urged the government to try to secure children’s best interests if it decides to sign an international convention designed to help resolve cases in which foreign parents are prevented from seeing children ‘‘abducted’’ to Japan after their marriages with Japanese nationals fail.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in a paper submitted to the foreign and justice ministries and the Cabinet Secretariat that Tokyo should guarantee in its domestic law that children should not be returned to their habitual country of residence if they are found to have been abused or subject to violence.

Satoshi Mukai, a JFBA vice president, told a press conference that even though member lawyers are divided over whether Japan should join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, they compiled the paper to influence ongoing discussions at the government task force on the convention.

The treaty, which currently has 84 parties, stipulates rules and procedures for the prompt return of children to their habitual country of residence when wrongfully removed or retained in the case of an international divorce.

The government launched the task force comprising senior vice ministers in January to examine whether Tokyo should accede to the treaty. Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven major economies that has not signed the pact and it has been under international pressure to join the treaty.

The report said Japan should stipulate in domestic laws guaranteeing the implementation of the Hague Convention that children’s opinions will be appropriately heard and respected when authorities make a judgment on their return to their habitual country of residence.

The lawyers also said the legislation should make it clear that the Hague Convention is not retroactive, or only applies to wrongful child removals or retentions that occur after its entry into force in Japan and that it exempts parental child abduction cases that occur domestically.

They called on the government to raise public awareness of the Hague Convention and set a three-year preparation period before the treaty takes effect in Japan.

Whether to join The Hague Convention has triggered a heated debate in Japan, where it is customary for mothers to take sole care of children after divorces. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

Some critics in Japan argue that even though the pact says children will not be returned to their habitual country of residence if there is ‘‘a grave risk of physical or psychological harm,’’ past judgments have been made based on ‘‘limited interpretations’’ of the clause.

The JFBA urged the nation’s diplomatic missions abroad to provide necessary assistance to Japanese nationals who are involved in child custody disputes.

Naoki Idei, a member of the JFBA’s working group on The Hague Convention, said many member lawyers are concerned the treaty could endanger Japanese parents and their children who have fled abusive relationships.

As a legal remedy, the lawyers’ group called on the Japanese government to ratify optional protocols of international human rights treaties that enable individuals to file complaints for violations of their rights.

Idei said such a mechanism would help redress the situation of parents and children when a return to a child’s habitual country of residence is ordered under The Hague Convention despite claims of abuse.

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Japan still split on treaty over child custody

Posted on February 12, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , |

BY MASAHIRO TSURUOKA STAFF WRITER Asahi Shimbun 2011/02/11

Even as Japan faces rising international pressure to ratify a treaty to resolve child custody battles between Japanese and foreign ex-spouses, public opinion in this country remains sharply divided over the issue.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction stipulates that if one parent takes the couple’s offspring to his or her home country without the consent of the spouse, the child or children must be returned to the country of previous residence.

The convention applies to children aged 15 or younger.

Japan and Russia are the only nations among the world’s eight major economies that have not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention.

A typical case under the Hague Convention is that of a Japanese woman who returns to Japan with her child after her marriage fails.

Japan has chosen not to ratify the treaty in part to protect returning Japanese women who say they are fleeing domestic violence or other serious troubles.

But abroad, their actions are often seen as bordering on criminal behavior. In some countries, the women are accused by their ex-husbands of kidnapping or abducting their own children.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement authorities are looking into several such abduction cases.

In Japan, opinions are split on the issue.

A Foreign Ministry survey of Japanese involved in such cases drew 22 responses in favor of ratification of the treaty and 17 against. The survey was released Feb. 2.

The ministry had received 64 responses as of November to its questionnaire posted on its website and other venues.

In support of ratification is the view that concluding the treaty, which serves as the international rule to settle cross-border child custody disputes, is necessary given the rising number of interracial marriages and divorces.

Others support ratification because Japan is being painted overseas as a country that defends the abduction of children.

In the other camp, dissenters say that Japan should not conclude the treaty because taking children away from a violent foreign spouse is a “last resort” for troubled Japanese women.

Moreover, fighting a custody battle in court in the child’s country of previous residence would burden the Japanese spouse with exorbitant legal fees or language barriers.

Often, such court rulings would not be in the Japanese parent’s favor, dissenters say.

Foreign Ministry statistics as of January on cases in which Japanese had brought their children back to Japan against the will of a divorced partner found 100 in the United States, 38 in Britain, 37 in Canada and 30 in France.

The tally is based on the number of cases for which foreign governments had contacted the Japanese government.

If Japan signs the Hague Convention, the government would be obliged to fulfill its legal responsibility by complying with requests made by foreign parents.

The government would be required to locate the “abducted” children and return them to their previous country of residence.

So far 84 countries have signed the Hague Convention.

International pressure on Japan to conclude the treaty is mounting.

France last month passed a resolution in the Senate to demand Japan’s prompt ratification of the Convention.

The U.S. House of Representatives took similar action in September.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up pressure on Japan over the issue in December and again in January, when she met Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.

Maehara reportedly told her in the January meeting, “Japan will seriously consider the matter.”

The government appears to be moving toward concluding the treaty.

At the instruction of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the government formed a task force comprising senior vice ministers of relevant ministries last month to weigh the issue.

Kan will likely promise to ratify the treaty when he visits Washington in May or later.

The Kan administration hopes to pass the related legislation at the same time it seeks Diet approval for the ratification.

The government plans to incorporate a clause in proposed bills that would allow parents to refuse to return their children in cases involving domestic violence.

But it is still hard to say if things will turn out the way the Kan administration wants.

Many DPJ members and Justice Ministry officials have expressed strong reservations about the speed at which the government is moving to ratify the treaty.

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Joining Hague in children’s best interest, U.S. adviser says

Posted on February 9, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

Staff writer for the Japan Times

If Japan wants to promote the best interests of children, it should sign the Hague Convention, the special adviser to the U.S. State Department on issues pertaining to international parental child abductions urged Tuesday.

Susan Jacobs, in Tokyo on a four-day visit during which she met with officials at the Foreign and Justice ministries, said the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction acts as a deterrent to parental child abductions.

Members of the Hague Convention “are very interested in having Japan join this convention because the convention sets out a legal framework for the return of children who have been abducted from one country to another country,” Jacobs said. “And I think that we have found that when this convention is in place, it lowers the number of abductions and encourages parents to reach custody agreements with each other in the best interests of the child.”

Japan has been under international pressure to sign the treaty, but there is strong domestic opposition, especially among mothers who took their kids to Japan, claiming they were fleeing domestic violence.

Jacobs pointed out that while the Hague treaty is not about domestic violence, women in many member states have resources to turn to, including the police, social services and shelters to seek protection from abuse.

“There is no need for anyone to continue to be subjected to domestic violence,” Jacobs said. “It is wrong, however, for someone who may or may not have been the victim of domestic violence to abduct their children from one country and take them to another when there is recourse in the country in which they were living.”

The government launched a study panel last month to discuss whether Japan should sign the Hague Convention. Jacobs expressed optimism with the recent progress made, including interest by the Japanese media and the public.

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Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

Posted on February 7, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

By Roland Buerk BBC 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 Kahney
Alex 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.

Japanese marrying a foreigner 1970-2005
  • The number of Japanese men marrying foreign women is higher than the number of Japanese women marrying foreign men. It is rare for a Japanese man to marry a Western woman, but Japanese women frequently marry Western men.
  • A Japanese man marrying a foreigner is most likely to marry a woman from China, the Philippines or Korea, in that order. A Japanese women marrying a foreigner is most likely to marry a man from Korea, the US or China.

For the whole story please click on the link below:

custody heartache

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2009 video on DV in Japan

Posted on February 5, 2011. Filed under: Domestic Violence (DV), Video | Tags: |

According to the video 25,ooo women were beaten in 2009. This was an increase of 20% from the previous year. One in 3 women were physically assaulted. And one in 20 fear for their life.  Click on the link to watch the whole video.

Video on DV

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