Japanese Family Law
Jun. 16, 2012 – OSAKA —
A Nicaraguan-born man who lives in the U.S. state of Wisconsin has been awarded custody of his 9-year-old daughter, ending a four-year court battle with his former Japanese wife.
Moises Garcia married Emiko Inoue in 2002 and settled in Wisconsin where their daughter Karina was born the same year.
However, Emiko took the girl with her to Japan in 2008 against her husband’s wishes. Garcia fought passionately—and spent about $350,000—to get his daughter back. The liver transplant doctor learned to speak Japanese so he could communicate with a daughter whose English was slipping away.
He hired lawyers in Japan and flew across the Pacific nine times to press his case and try to see his daughter. He enlisted the help of the U.S. State Department and his native Nicaragua. He became active in an advocacy group—Global Future—run by U.S. parents whose children were taken to Japan.
Garcia won a major victory in 2009 when the Japanese courts—which did not recognize the U.S. court that granted Garcia full custody—determined he should have visitation rights. And he kept fighting when his ex-wife appealed and the case dragged on for years.
In all that time, he only saw his daughter three times. The longest visit was for just under two hours at a hotel restaurant. Another visit lasted 10 short minutes at a school open house.
The Osaka High Court, in handing down its ruling, said that Karina had become used to life in the United States with her father and that forcibly returning her to Japan now would be bad for her.
Karina is the first U.S. child abducted by a Japanese parent who was returned to the United States with the aid of the court system.
Her case remains an anomaly, however, because Karina likely never would have been returned if her mother hadn’t flown to Hawaii in April 2011 and been arrested on child abduction charges.
Inoue spent months in a Wisconsin jail until she reached a plea deal with prosecutors: her parents would send Karina home to Garcia and Inoue would be given probation instead of a lengthy prison sentence.
Until laws change in Japan—and family courts gain the power to enforce custody rights—it will be nearly impossible for other parents to be reunited with their children, Garcia said.
“When my ex-wife was arrested, we finally got the enforcement that was missing from the Japanese courts,” he said at a press conference in a Milwaukee hotel. “If my ex-wife had never been arrested, Karina’s alienation would have been completed.”
Japan Today/AFPRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
From September to December I visited 41 prefectural offices. In general all most all prefectures did their best to accommodate my needs. Since my Japanese ability is not very good, I would first go to the International Affairs Division and ask for translation help. Then someone from International Affairs would accompany me to the Child Welfare Department or in some cases Child Welfare would come to the International Affairs Division. Ibaraki-ken was the most friendly prefectural office I visited. The people in the International Affairs Department and the Child Welfare Department were both great. Mie-ken was the most unfriendly prefectural office. They turned me away and told me to make an appointment if I decided to come back. They were the only prefecture that turned me away. Other unfriendly prefectures included Saitama, Oita, and Fukuoka. Some of the better prefectures were Iwate, Yamanashi, and Ibaraki, with the remaining prefectures falling in the middle. Sometimes I met with as many as 4 members from Child Welfare. Many times the people I met with would take notes as I spoke. All most every prefecture said they would share the information I gave them with others in their department. They all said they would have a meeting to discuss what they could do for me (for children who can’t meet one of their parents). But they said it was difficult for them to do anything significant. Of course I said they were limited in what they could do but I also suggested some simple things they could do, such as ask the governor to send a request to the Diet in Tokyo requesting Japan adopt “Joint Custody”. Japan is the only G-7 country that does not have some form of joint custody. I met some good people along the way. Left behind parents supported me in Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Gifu, Shiga, Aichi, Yokohama, Tokyo, and Nagano. I am grateful of their help and generosity. I was definitely able to raise awareness at the prefectural level but the general public still is largely unaware of this problem. More work needs to be done. I told all of the prefectural offices that the family court was the problem. The ruling the family courts make go against the message contained in the DVD Supreme Court video and the UNCRC. The family courts do nothing to ensure children have contact with both parents. The government encourages fathers to take a more active role in child rearing and has established policies for workers to take more time off when their kids are born. But the family courts/government seem to ignore this fact when couples divorce. After divorce one parent somehow becomes unimportant. Ten’s of thousands of loving parents, maybe more, are being denied access to one parent. You can make a difference by getting involved. Oyakonet and K-net are 2 of the biggest LBP groups in Japan. There are many other smaller groups too, most of whom support each other and work toward the same goal “spending more time with their children”. Contact Children First if you are interested in helping out.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
NHK does a very nice job with their short piece on Joint Custody. Professor Tanase, a specialist in child development does a great job. She talks about what needs to be done and what is best for the kids. Click the link to watch the short program.
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
As some of my blog readers know, I am cycling from Kumamoto to Tokyo to raise awareness about children’s rights. As a result I have been unable to keep my blog up to date. I am now in Okayama. I guess it is about the halfway point. I will hopefully end my awareness tour in Tokyo on the 17th of October. If you would like to follow my awareness tour please check out the Children First Japan Facebook page and the Joint Custody Facebook page.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Japan Times に掲載された記事「Japan’s ‘silent tsunami’ severs parental ties, wrecks children’s lives」のケビン・ブラウンさんによる文章の日本語訳です。
Japan Times 2011年8月30日（火）
3分毎に新たな子どもが親の離婚によって両親の片方から断絶されています。 7分 毎に新たな子どもが学校いじめの犠牲者になっています。 12分毎に児童虐待に関する新たなケースが保護施設に報告されています。 毎週、少なくとも1 人の子供がこうした児童虐待の結果として死んでいます。
「Children First」は、これらの問題と子供に影響のあることについての他の問題を克服するために活動しています。 しかし、私たちだけでは実現できません。日本が子供にとってより良い場所になるためには、国会議員や政策立案者の助けが必要です。
ほとんどの人々がいじめと虐待の存在に気付いています。これらの2つの問題はしば しば新聞に掲載されます。 しかし、私や多く の他の親達が更に憂慮すべきだと考える問題は、3分毎に子どもの離婚後の片方の親との連絡が絶えてしまうということです。
これは、日本中に癌のように広まっている静かな悲劇です。 それによって、子ども達は彼らの最大限の可能性を広げることができません。それは家 族と家族重視の価値観を滅ぼしています。それは子どもを、将来についての混乱の最中に放り出したままにし、そして普通の生活を送れる可能性を小さくします。 何組かの親子は想像を絶する深 い悲しみの中に取り残されます。これは多く の人々が知らない静かな津波です。 家裁と日本の法システムが、この悲劇が続くことを許しているのです。
現在、私は裁判を抱えていますが、その内容はすぐに変わるべきです。9月13日に、裁判官は離婚と親権に関する判決を出すでしょう。前例の通りであるならば、私は100%負けるでしょう。私は、私の所轄裁判所のある熊本から東京の最高裁判所まで、自転車に乗って行くことを計画しています。私は家族法を変えることを要求するつもりです。私は道中、県庁に寄って知事達からの支持を集めるつもりです。私はそのために8週間の休暇を取りました。「Children First」の日本のフェイスブックページ(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Children-First-Japan/115396388532379)や、「共同親権」の日本のフェースブックページ(http://www.facebook.com/oyako)で、私の計画の経過を見守ることができます。そしてまた、私のブログ「Children First Japan」(http://kwbrow2.wordpress.com)で、私の旅行に関する詳しい情報が得られます。
To the next Prime Minister,
|Left behind: Parents who have lost contact with their children after divorce or separation from their Japanese spouses march through Tokyo with their supporters on Aug. 23. The demonstrators urged Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and amend its current child custody laws. Left Behind Parents Japan planned the march to coincide with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Tokyo. SIMON SCOTT PHOTO|
I am the cofounder of Children First (childrenfirst.jp), an NPO that focuses on children’s issues. Every three minutes another child loses all contact with one of their parents after divorce. Every seven minutes another child is a victim of school bullying. Every 12 minutes another case of child abuse is reported to protective services. Every week at least one child dies as the result of abuse.
Children First is working to overcome these issues and other problems affecting children. But we can’t do it alone. We need the help of Diet members and policymakers to change things so Japan is a better place for children.
Most people are aware of bullying and abuse. These two issues make the headlines often. But a problem I and many other parents find more alarming is that every three minutes a child loses contact with one parent due to divorce.
On March 11, more than 16,000 people died; about another 5,000 are still missing. Hundreds if not thousands of children lost at least one parent on that day. Since March 11, more than 82,000 children have lost contact with one parent due to divorce.
This is a silent tragedy that is spreading like a cancer throughout Japan. It is preventing children from reaching their full potential. It is destroying families and family values. It leaves children confused about the future and it reduces their chances of having a normal life. It leaves some parents and children to deal with unimaginable grief. It is a silent tsunami that many people don’t know about. The family courts and the Japanese legal system are allowing this tragedy to continue.
In 2006 the Supreme Court made a DVD titled “What Couples with Children Must Think About When They Live Apart.” Surprisingly, the family courts don’t show this video to parents. Quite the opposite: They hide the existence of this DVD and family court judges make rulings that go directly against the message contained in the DVD — that children need both parents to be happy. Some family court lawyers are unaware that this video exists.
Now, the average parent gets four hours of visitation per month with his/her child. This is hardly enough time to form a bond or make a difference in a child’s life. Some parents use parental alienation to destroy the relationship the child once had with the noncustodial parent.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), children are entitled to have a relationship with both parents. If for some reason the parent and child are separated, the state (Japan) must re-establish contact with the left-behind parent. Of course, this never happens. So, the family court has failed twice. They don’t follow the advice of the Supreme Court DVD and they ignore the UNCRC, which is equivalent to a law.
I think it is time to review the rulings of judges throughout Japan and get rid of the ones who make bad rulings. I have been told by lawyers that judges sometimes don’t even look at the case files and are unprepared for what takes place in court. Bad judges need to be removed from the bench.
Mr. Prime Minister, I am asking you to take the necessary steps to remove bad judges as well as pass laws that guarantee children will have a long and meaningful relationship with both parents. Furthermore, I would also like you to pass laws that do a better job of protecting children from abuse and bullying, as well as implement better policies for reporting abuse and bullying. Teachers and bureaucrats are the key to eliminating abuse and bullying. I hope you give them the necessary tools to make a difference.
Currently, I have an active court case but that should soon change. On Sept. 13, the judge will make a ruling on my case regarding divorce and custody. If history is any indication, there is a 100-percent chance that I will lose. I plan to ride my bicycle from Kumamoto, where my court case is, to the Supreme Court in Tokyo. I will demand that family law be changed. I will stop at prefectural offices along the way and garner support from governors. I have taken eight weeks off of work for this cause. You can follow my progress on the Children First Japan Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/pages/Children-First-Japan/115396388532379) or the Joint Custody in Japan Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/oyako) and you can also find more information about my trip on my blog Children First Japan (kwbrow2.wordpress.com).
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The government has decided to join the Hague Convention on the protection of children who are taken or kept in a certain country by one parent without the other’s consent when international marriages break down. The government is now studying the establishment of the necessary legal framework. However, some people have expressed caution about signing the treaty, raising such questions as how to deal with parents and children who come to Japan to escape domestic violence.
In May, the Cabinet decided Japan should participate in the Hague Convention, and this decision was conveyed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight countries in Deauville, France, later that month.
The formal name of the treaty is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The multinational treaty is designed to provide an expeditious method to return children abducted from one participating nation to another. It is also designed to prevent one parent from removing children from the country where they habitually reside without the consent of the other parent after the marriage collapses.
The convention was adopted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1980 and enforced in 1983. As of July, 85 states are parties to the convention, but few Asian countries have joined.
Under the convention, a child under 16 years old should be returned to its place of habitual residence if one of its parents takes the child out of that country without the consent of the other parent after their marriage collapses. If the parent who remained in the nation of habitual residence demands the return of the child, that child should, in principle, be returned.
The convention is based on the idea that it would serve the best interests of the children if they remained in the nation of habitual residence and courts in that nation decide how the children should be raised.
On the other hand, the number of divorces among international couples has also increased, reaching about 20,000 in 2009.
In recent years, there have been many cases of Japanese women who married and began living in other countries, such as the United States, Canada and France, who returned to Japan with their children and refused to let their children have any contact with their fathers. This has become a major issue in North America and Europe.
As of May, there were 100 cases in which children had been removed from the United States, followed by 39 in Britain, 38 in Canada and 32 in France, according to reports received by the Foreign Ministry from other countries.
Under the Japanese “sole parental authority” system, only one parent has parental rights after a married couple has divorced. It is not unusual, therefore, for a parent without parental rights to be refused any contact with his or her children.
In the United States and Europe, joint parental authority or joint custody is common practice. Under this system, parents and their children who live separately after divorcing frequently meet and interact with their offspring.
Because of cultural and institutional differences in parent-child relations, other countries regard Japan as a nation that refuses to allow divorced parents to meet their children.
Last September, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution asking Japan to sign the convention. The French Senate adopted a similar resolution in January this year.
With Japan coming under increasing pressure, the government started preparations for joining the convention by studying the necessary legal arrangements and deciding to designate the Foreign Ministry as the “central authority,” stipulated in the convention, to discharge duties imposed by the convention on such authorities.
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Around 20 Japanese and Japan-based foreign parents who are facing difficulties in gaining access to their children following failed international marriages marched in Tokyo on Tuesday in seeking help from visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to push the Japanese government to address the issue of child custody.
Holding banners reading “Stop child abduction” and “Why don’t we have rights to see our children in Japan?” the parents embarked on a march after holding a rally in a park in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.
At issue is child alienation and abduction by Japanese parents, as courts in Japan tend to award mothers sole custody after divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.
Japan recently launched preparations for joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets procedures for settling cross-border child custody disputes.
Akihisa Hirata, co-organizer of a group called Left Behind Parents Japan, said in his message to Biden, “Please urge the Japanese government to address child abduction and also establish joint parenting and joint custody.”
A male participant at the rally said, “Japanese people cannot change their behavior without a strong foreign pressure. We call for changes in the laws to realize joint custody and joint parenting, which is widely adopted in other parts of the world.”
Anthony del Vecchio, a U.S. citizen who has not seen his daughter for seven years after divorcing his Japanese wife, said before the start of the protest march, “With respect to the protection of human rights in general and children’s rights in particular, Japan lags far behind the rest of the developed world.”
“Its system of sole custody upon divorce runs contrary to common sense, sound psychological research and international norms,” he said.
The U.S. State Department lists 123 active cases involving 173 children who have been abducted from the United States to Japan, but it is “not aware of a single case in which a child abducted to Japan has ever been returned to America,” he said.
Biden is on a three-day visit to Japan through Wednesday. The issue of child custody was not apparently discussed in his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier in the day.
Below is my detailed schedule of my bike ride from Kumamoto to Tokyo. I will be starting on the 13th of September in Kumamoto. I will hopefully end my ride on the 18th of October. I attended an Oyakonet Kansai meeting on Sunday and some people have already volunteered (through mixi) to let me stay at their residence. I have a place to stay in Fukuoka, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga (Hikone), Nagoya, Okazaki, Yokohama, and Tokyo. Some will even accompany me to the prefectural offices. A big thanks to all those who intend to help me along the way. Everyone will be able to follow me on my trip in a few different ways. I will make posts to this blog, children first facebook page, and joint custody facebook page. In large part, my trip is to raise awareness about the need to change Japanese Family Law. More specifically, children need both parents in their life to be happy. Currently, every 3 seconds a child loses contact with one parent after divorce. Every year 100′s of thousands of children lose half of their family. Japan is way behind the rest of the civilized world in terms of international norms. My hope is to garner media attention and support from governor’s of Japan. I would like Japan to finally take the steps needed to make it a better place for children.
I have made some modifications to my cycling trip. I have decided to start in Kumamoto on the 13th of September. I picked this day because the judge will rule on my case on the 13th. I was expecting the ruling much earlier. As a result I thought it would be best to delay my start. It seems kind of symbolic to start in Kumamoto. I have a had to make numerous trips to Kumamoto for court. I can pick up my ruling on the 13th and then start cycling. It would be nice if I could get press or left behind parents to see me off on the 13th. If you don’t have plans feel free to meet me at the Kumamoto Family Court on the 13th of September.
I am still planning to handout flyers along the way. I am still planning on stopping at governors offices, court houses, and international schools. Due to my late start I may not have time to cycle all the way to Hokkaido. I will play it by ear. There are numerous left behind parents who can support me from Kumamoto to Tokyo but much less support exists between Tokyo and Hokkaido. I am working with other left behind parents now to pin down the exact days I will be in Saga, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Otsu, Gifu, Nagoya, Shizuoka, Yokohama, and Tokyo. I will be making updates on the Joint Custody in Japan Facebook page and the Children First Facebook page as well as my Facebook page. Please check one of these places every week or so.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
State Dept. Testifies at Child Abduction HearingSmith: Negotiate MOU with Japan Concurently with the Hague Convention…
“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.
In line with Japan’s decision to join the Hague Convention on child custody, work to create necessary domestic legislation is about to start at government organs like the Legislative Council of the Justice Ministry.
The international agreement is designed to deal mainly with cross-border “abductions” by parents related to broken international marriages. If an international marriage collapses and one of the parents leaves the country with their child without consent from the other one, the treaty requires the return of the child to the country and the determination of the issue of custody according to the country’s legal procedures.
In a May Cabinet meeting, the government formally decided to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. One key question is how to deal with cases in which the return of the child to the country of his or her habitual residence could undermine the welfare of the child.
If, for instance, a Japanese wife returns to Japan with her child to escape from her foreign husband’s violence or persecution, should the child still be returned to the country?
At the time of the Cabinet approval of Japan’s participation in the pact, the government specified several conditions that will allow it to refuse the return of the child under the law. They include: The child has suffered from the father’s violence; the husband has exercised violence against the wife in a way that has seriously traumatized the child; the wife cannot go with the child due to financial and other reasons and there is no appropriate person in the country who can take care of the child.
Some critics say these exceptional clauses would strip the teeth from the treaty. But these provisos are based on relevant court decisions made in countries that are parties to the treaty.
The government needs to explain the intentions of these clauses carefully to prevent misunderstandings that could undermine international confidence in Japan.
Whether specific cases meet any of the conditions that enable the government to refuse the return of the child will be determined by family courts in Japan, according to the government’s plan.
There are some important questions that need to be answered through in-depth discussions on actual cases. What kind of evidence is needed to prove the exercise of violence in a foreign country, for instance? What does the phrase “seriously traumatized” exactly mean?
An accumulation of precedents would foster stability in court decisions on such cases and promote public understanding of the issue.
Debate is also needed on the duties of the “Central Authority,” which is supposed to play the central role in the proceedings for the return of the child.
Under the treaty, the Central Authority is obliged to perform such functions as locating and protecting the child, providing information and advice to the parties concerned for the settlement of the dispute and securing the safe return of the child to the other country.
None of these is an easy task. Some of the contracting countries post photos of children on the Internet to find them. But that wouldn’t be acceptable in Japan.
What kind of powers and information in the possession of public institutions should be used for carrying out these tasks? Should police also become involved?
The Foreign Ministry, which will be designated as Japan’s Central Authority for dealing with cases according to the treaty, needs to define its roles and responsibilities carefully by learning from the experiences of experts handling various cases of family disputes and listening to the views of the public.
Japan will have to fulfill the obligations of a signatory country. But smooth enforcement of the law will be impossible unless there are clear ideas about actual implementation that are shared by all of society and enjoy broad public support.
There will also be cases in which Japan demands the return of a child who has been taken to another country.
There are no significant differences in parental love for children between fathers and mothers.
Japan needs to establish a system that can deal effectively with cases under the Hague Convention. The system should not favor specific positions or viewpoints and should put the priority on the child’s happiness.
–The Asahi Shimbun, July 12
Jul. 06, 2011 – NIIGATA —
A Mexican man was found guilty and given a suspended jail term Tuesday for forcibly taking his daughter from his separated Japanese wife last November by breaking into her home in Niigata on the Sea of Japan and injuring her mother who tried to prevent him.
The Niigata District Court sentenced Nathanael Teutle Retamoza, 33, to two years in prison, suspended for four years, for his behavior aimed at taking the 1-year-old girl to the United States, at a time when the Japanese government is preparing for legislation to help settle international child custody disputes.
The ruling said it was ‘‘selfish’’ for Retamoza to act on his urge to see his daughter, from whom he had been separated for two months, without heeding the sentiment of his former wife and her relatives.
It also noted that he prepared for the abduction well in advance as he booked U.S.-bound air tickets for himself and his daughter beforehand.
However, the court said the prison sentence is suspended as the man regretted inflicting on his former mother-in-law injuries that required two weeks of treatment and received punishments in the forms of nearly eight months of detention and abandonment of his daughter’s custody.
According to Retamoza’s lawyer, the couple divorced after the incident and the mother was awarded sole custody of the daughter. Also after the incident, the court served a restraining order on him following the wife’s claim of abuse.
In a similar case, an American man was arrested in September 2009 in Fukuoka Prefecture on suspicion of abducting his son and daughter in a bid to reclaim them, as his ex-wife had taken them from the United States to Japan.
But prosecutors did not file criminal charges against Christopher Savoie.
To deal with cross-border parental abduction cases, Japan decided in May to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets procedures for settling international child custody disputes.
We regularly receive emails from Japanese-Filipinos searching for their Japanese fathers. Many of these adults were abandoned as children, along with their Filipino mothers, while others were forced to leave Japan for various reasons.
Though the circumstances are different for each family, many of these children (and mothers) lack the support of the father (financial or otherwise). So, in answer to these inquiries, the following nonprofit organizations may be of help:
The Citizens’ Network for Japanese-Filipino Children primarily offers support to abandoned Japanese-Filipino children (JFC). Their services include locating fathers within Japan and providing legal assistance, in cooperation with the JFC Lawyers Association, with issues such as paternal financial support and acquisition of Japanese nationality.
JFCNet also holds regular seminars and provides informative publications.
In the Philippines, JFCNet offers services for JFC and their mothers at the Maligaya House including a scholarship program for children, legal and psychological counseling, Japanese language classes and workshops, a research and publication program, and an advocacy and networking program.
An important point to note, says JFCNet, is that JFC born out of wedlock can acquire Japanese nationality if their Japanese father legally recognizes them before their 20th birthday, even if the JFC resides outside Japan.
For more information or to receive help from the Citizens’ Network for Japanese-Filipino Children, please visit or contact them in Japan at: JFCNet Tokyo Office, Nishishinjuku High-Home 206, Nishishinjuku 4-16-2, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo 160-0023. Email: email@example.com. Telephone/fax: (050) 3328-0143.
In the Philippines: Maligaya House, 18-A Cabezas Street, Project 4, Quezon City, Metro Manila, 1109 Philippines. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone/fax: (+63) (2) 913-8913.
JFCNet services are offered in Tagalog, English and Japanese.
The Center for Japanese-Filipino Families (CJFF) is a sister organization of JFCNet, supported by the United Church of Christ in Japan, United Church of Canada and the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity, or EMS, of Germany.
They offer a variety of services, which include: temporary housing; school and employment opportunities for JFC who travel to Japan to locate their fathers; counseling services; cultural activities; psychological support and related services, particularly for those unable to locate their fathers; regular workshops for JFC; and a youth development program.
For more information about CJFF, you can find their website at youthjapan.net/cjff.html.
Or, contact CJFF at: CJFF, Room 32, Japan Christian Center, 2-3-18 Nishi Waseda, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo 151-0069. Email: email@example.com.
The Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) is “a nongovernment development organization created on February 6, 1996, to assist Filipino women migrants in Japan and their Japanese-Filipino children (JFC) in the promotion and protection of their human rights and welfare.”
Similar to the organizations mentioned above, DAWN provides a wide range of services for JFC and their mothers, including counseling, travel assistance to and from Japan in necessary cases, temporary shelter, health care assistance, educational support and legal help.
DAWN also works to provide other community services and opportunities to rehabilitate women and their children. Their website is at www.dawnphil.org
You can also visit or contact DAWN at: DAWN-Philippines, Room 514, Don Santiago Building, 1344 Taft Avenue, Ermita, Manila, Philippines 1000. Telephone: (+63) (2) 526-9098. Fax: (632) 526-9101. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For DAWN-Japan, email email@example.com
The Batis Center for Women, located in the Philippines, also assists women and their Japanese-Filipino children. Most of the cases they handle involve “returned women migrant workers from Japan with young children who have been abandoned or are separated from their Japanese husbands or partners.”
The Batis Center primarily works to rehabilitate women and children after they’ve returned from Japan, and their services cover counseling, education, financial assistance, advocacy, legal assistance, and health and medical support, among others.
Additionally, they partner with Batis-YOGHI, a youth organization devoted to providing ongoing support to JFC.
To contact The Batis Center, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (+63) (2) 925-7843. You can contact Batis-YOGHI via the same email and phone number — ask for Lala Javier.
The Batis Center also has a regularly updated Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Batis-Center-for-Women/136570526371270.
If you know of any other organizations or services, especially any located in Japan, that provide support of any kind to Japanese-Filipino children, please email us.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 32 so far )
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.
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.
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)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Children First is making a difference. Become part of this new NPO and help protect children’s rights. Becoming a member is free and easy. Just go to www.childrenfirst.jp and sign up. You can also sign the Children First pledge (below). You can become a member no matter where you live. We can all do a little bit more to protect children.“To all children, I pledge To always show you compassion, To ensure your basic physical and psychological needs, To shelter you from violence, To defend your rights, and To be a positive role model. In short, I pledge that the happiness and welfare of all children will be my top priority. With love, A Former Child.”
We are making strides to change the laws so children’s rights are a top priority for everyone.
One voice can hardly be heard. Ten thousand voices can hardly be ignored. Add your voice to Children First today.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The Cabinet approved bills Friday to revise two laws on parental rights amid an increase in child abuse cases, with an eye on having them clear the Diet this session.
The bills would pave the way for a system that would set a limit of up to two years for suspended parental authority and give priority to child care facility officials over parents as part of efforts to protect kids from abuse.
Cases presumed to require swift and flexible action include medical neglect involving parents who refuse to seek medical treatment when their children are sick, and parents who wrongfully take children away from shelters.
Under the current system, parents are stripped of custodial rights without a time limit, and child care workers say the law makes them hesitate to ask the courts to invalidate parental custody even in cases of suspected child abuse.
Amid concerns that suspending guardian rights for an indefinite period could jeopardize the parent-child relationship, one of the bills seeks to revise the Civil Code to impose a time limit, which would make it possible to restore the custodial rights if the situation improved.
The other bill would give heads of shelters more authority to insist on caring for abused kids even if parents resist.
Japan is looking at signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is aimed at promptly returning children illegally taken by a parent out of the country of their habitual residence.
The question has arisen over whether the Civil Code should also be changed to allow dual parental rights after divorce. Eda said the Justice Ministry “is now discussing the matter, but I personally feel that allowing dual parental rights doesn’t necessarily have to” be packaged with signing the convention.
Signatory countries, particularly the United States, France and Canada, are urging Japan to join the convention against international child abductions by parents.
Some people whose former spouses don’t let them see their children in Japan argue that signing the convention doesn’t guarantee their access to children unless dual parental rights are also allowed.
This problem doesn’t only concern foreigners. Japanese parents — fathers in most cases — also can’t see their kids if their ex-spouses say no.
In Japan, those with parental rights have discretion over how often their ex-spouses can see their offspring. Shared parental rights are currently not allowed by the Civil Code because of the cultural belief that a stable environment is considered the most important factor for children.
“I guess it comes from the idea that letting a single parent have parental rights is good because it is simple,” Eda said.
Parents who were victims of abusive relationships are urging the government to keep parental rights to one person and not sign the Hague Convention because, they say, the current legal system protects them from their former spouses.
The Justice Ministry manages the Civil Code, and thus would likely be the source of any bills revising it.
Turning to other developments in the ministry, Eda said officials are studying how other countries deal with making the investigation process by police and prosecutors more transparent.
To read the whole story (some of which deals with the death penalty) please click on the link below:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Japan’s been under pressure for years to tackle a problem that’s a comparatively minor irritant on the annual diplomatic calendar, but which is a source of enormous emotional pain for the individuals involved.
As the number of international marriages grows, an inevitable if sad byproduct has been the rise of divorces, putting the fate of bi-racial children at the centre of sometimes bitter personal disputes. In some cases, Japanese mothers have taken their kids from foreign fathers and brought them to Japan, where they’re beyond the reach of global law, at least for now.
The issue has been forced onto the slow-moving bureaucratic agenda by the attentions of the world’s media. Last year, CNN extensively covered Christopher Savoie’s arrest and eventual release after he snatched his kids as they walked to school in Fukuoka.
The website of Japan’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club features a harrowing tale of Frenchman Arnaud Simon, who killed himself last November, apparently in frustration at being blocked from joint custody of his half-Japanese son. According to journalist Regis Arnaud, another French man in the same predicament, Christophe Guillermin, took his own life last June. Those tragedies prompted French lawmakers recently to adopt a resolution calling on Japan to join over 80 other signatories to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan is under pressure to sign-up during his next trip to the United States, scheduled for June. NHK reports that the Japanese government is ‘facing difficulties’ on deciding its position because it remains concerned about Japanese women who return with their children to ‘escape abusive foreign partners.’
What some reports neglect to mention is that Japanese fathers, in overwhelming numbers (CNN cites a figure of 100 cases of children abducted by non-custodial Japanese parents) struggle with the same problem. If Japanese experts are to be believed, most fathers are happy to accept sole custody by the mother—but not all. And, as an article in yesterday’s Sankei newspaper suggests, fathers too can withhold custody, with unusual results:
The article says that amid a divorce dispute, a father has refused to allow the mother access to their four-year-old daughter even though they are still legally married. The mother, Terumi Aoyagi (36) is still married to her husband, but he filed a complaint with the police after she, along with her mother (the child’s grandmother, 63), tried to ‘get access to’ (read snatch) the daughter in the car park of the girl’s pre-school. Their attempt failed after a teacher stopped them.
According to the article, both mother and grandmother were arrested for ‘kidnapping of a minor’ on January 27 and are still in jail.
The fact that the alleged kidnapping also happened in Fukuoka will prompt some to ask the obvious questions. If it’s OK for a mother to take her children from the United States to Japan, why isn’t it acceptable for a father to come and take them back? If it’s wrong for a father to snatch his children on the way home from school, why is it acceptable for another father to deny access to his daughter, then have her mother arrested when she tries to get it?
Whatever your answers to those questions are, it seems clear that when the police can arrest and detain a mother for the crime of trying to see her child, there’s something badly amiss with the custody system.
The Diplomat (Feb. 1st, 2011)
I wrote a message to PM Kan today.
“Yes signing the Hague is important but more important is solving the existing cases of parental abduction and denial of access among parents living in Japan and abroad. Millions of children are affected by divorce and about 80% of those divorced children loose all contact with one parent. It is important that both parents have access to their child. The Supreme Court of Japan produced a DVD called, “What Couples with Children Must Think About When They Live Apart”. This DVD states that it is best for both kids to have access to both parents. Kids will grow up and do better in school and life if the have love and attention from both parents. Mr. Kan I hope you can personally work on this issue and make the necessary changes so that all children can have long term and meaningful access to both of their parents whether they are Japanese or foreign.”
Please visit his blog (click on the link below) and write a message today!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Colin Jones is a law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto. He has studied Japanese Family Law, Japanese Courts, Child Custody, Divorce, and Parental Abduction for the last 6 years. He did an interview in the summer of 2009 about Japanese Family Courts and why they do what they do. The interview can be found on youtube. Colin is very knowledgeable and he compares Japanese Family Law and California Family Law at times. If you want to learn more about the Family Court System in Japan please watch the 50 minute interview. (It is a five part series each being 10 minutes).Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A group of left behind parents met in Tokyo on a cold winter day to protest and speak about child abduction and the need for Japan to change it’s outdated Family Law. Parents want more access to their children. Parents want joint custody like all of the other G-7 countries have. Children have the right to see and love both parents. Under Japanese law only one parent has custody after divorce and the other parent often loses custody and contact with the child. Left Behind Parents gave speeches and marched down the street in Shibuya. This was an excellent turnout for such a cold day. About 80 parents and concerned citizens showed up to raise awareness about child abduction. The children are the foundation of the future. Click on the link to view a 3 minute video of the demo.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
On Saturday July 31st, (“中部・共同親権法制化運動の会”)”Chubu Joint Custody Association for the legislation of joint nurture” sponsored a demo in Nagoya followed by a symposium related to Parental Abduction, Joint Custody, and Parental Alienation. Five fathers spoke at the symposium after the demo. Goto-sensei was the keynote speaker at the symposium. NHK and the Chunichi shimbun were at the symposium and plan to do stories on the issue.
Goto-sensei had several interesting points. She said, there are not many lawyers in Japan that are experienced and willing to fight the unjust Japanese Court system. Goto-sensei talked about a case that she worked on for 3 years. She represented the father and after a 3 year battle custody was awarded to him but transferring physical custody to the father was a problem. The court tried to assist with this two different times but each time it failed. After the second failure the court suggested that Goto and the father give up. Hence, as most of us know, the court has no real power.
Goto said things use to be different 30 years ago. Men often got custody but sometime in the 1990′s a feminist movement took place and women suddenly started gaining power especially in custody cases.
Goto also said, if you are a good person and follow the Japanese way your chances of being abused by the system are great. Goto suggested you fight in court that way judges and courts will know there is a problem. If you don’t try and fight you will never win. “Fight the system” was her biggest message of the day. But, in the same breath Goto-sensei said there are only 5 aggressive lawyers in Japan who are willing to fight the system. She said the other lawyers are weak or inexperienced and don’t want to cause trouble. So if you read between the lines, it is almost impossible to hire an aggressive lawyer who will fight for the best interests of the child.
If you have time watch the short video below.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Asahi Broadcasting Corporation in Osaka did a story about international divorce and the state of Family Law in Japan. They focused on 2 cases, Craig Morrey and Yuka Yamanaka. Craig’s ex moved to Yamaguchi-ken with their daughter and left Craig to care for his severely handicapped son all by himself. Craig rarely gets to meet his daughter. Craig, as most divorced parents, is extremely unhappy with the family court system. He is working with many people in Japan and America to change the Family Law System in Japan.
Yuka’s children live in America and her ex refuses to let the kids visit Japan because Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention. Her ex’s knows there is no legal or diplomatic way to return the children from Japan to America, unless Japan signs the Hague. Yuka is hoping the government of Japan will sign the Hague. She would also like to see changes in the Family Law System so both parents can have access to their children.
Click on the link to watch the 14 minute video: ABC video on divorce and Japanese Family Law_Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The Yomiuri Shimbun
We live in a time when divorce has become commonplace. In Japan, a couple gets divorced every two minutes. Consequently, the number of divorced parents filing requests with the courts for visitation rights is increasing.
There is also a growing number of conflicts resulting from breakups of couples from different countries. Due to differences in interpretation regarding child custody, parents have been accused of abducting their own children and taking them to another country.
As families and people’s values diversify, certain problems have become difficult to resolve under the existing system.
Starting today, we will look at some of the problems divorced parents face as they struggle to win the right to see their children.
After separating from her husband five years ago, a 51-year-old woman in Tokyo began a long struggle to see her 15-year-old son.
The woman, a temporary worker, has only been able to see her son twice in the five years that have passed. The meetings, held in a court and in the presence of a court personnel, totaled just 95 minutes.
On both occasions when the woman saw her son, she was unable to stop tears welling up.
“My son, who is taking piano lessons, put his hand on mine to compare the size,” she said. “As I saw him staring at me while talking, I felt we were deeply bound inside.”
Desperately wishing to see her son more often, in July 2007 she applied to the family court for mediation on the issue of visitation rights.
However, the woman’s former husband initially resisted all requests to allow her to visit her son, citing the boy’s need to focus on his schooling, including preparing to move up to the next grade.
As part of the mediation process, in which a voluntary settlement is sought with the help of commissioners, the court initially set up two short meetings between the woman and her son as a way of determining the format future meetings should take.
The two met for 50 minutes in March 2008 and 45 minutes in April 2009.
“My son remembered the meeting we had a year earlier,” the woman said.
While the court advised that the woman be allowed to visit her son every two months, the couple failed to reach an agreement. As a result, the mediation process moved to the next stage, which will see a final decision issued by a judge.
“I’m so worried that I might never be allowed to see my son again,” she said.
Children caught up in disputes
The number of divorces nationwide reached 250,000 in 2008, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey. Of those divorced couples, 140,000 had children aged under 20, which numbered more than 240,000.
The rising number of divorced couples is accompanied by an increasing number of conflicts involving children.
According to an annual survey compiled by the Supreme Court, family courts across the country mediated in 6,261 cases concerning disputes over meetings between divorced parents and their children and judges were forced to deliver a final decision in 1,020 of those cases. Both figures were triple the numbers a decade ago.
Even through such court-mediated procedures, only half of the parents involved in the cases won permission to see their children.
In addition, regardless of an agreement or court order reached on visitation, if the parent who lives with the child strongly resists allowing meetings, it remains difficult for the other parent to see the child.
Maintaining contact important
Several years ago, a 40-year-old man from Kanagawa Prefecture seeking the right to see his then 1-year-old son applied for court mediation.
He had helped his wife take care of the baby, feeding him milk and changing his diapers at night. On his days off, he took the boy to a park to play. “I had no inkling I’d be prevented from meeting my son after the divorce,” he said. “But I was completely wrong.”
He said that even after the official mediation procedure started, his former wife maintained she would never allow him to see their son. She even pushed back the scheduled date for the mediation. Time passed and no decisions were made.
Desperate to see his son, the man even visited the neighborhood where the boy lived with his mother.
The former couple failed to reach a compromise through the court-led mediation process and began proceedings that would lead to a decision by a judge. Two years later, the court concluded that the man should be allowed to see his son once a month, for half a day. Nevertheless, the former wife broke the appointment set for the first meeting, leaving the man unable to see the boy.
After repeated negotiations with the woman through lawyers, he finally managed to ensure he could regularly see his son. “I believe it’s important for children’s growth to maintain a relationship with both parents,” the father said. “I think adults shouldn’t deprive their children of this right due to selfishness.”
Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura argues the existing system no longer meets society’s changing needs. “It was previously believed that divorced parents had to accept they couldn’t see children they’d been separated from,” Tanamura said. “In recent years, however, men have become more involved in child rearing and the number of children born to couples has declined. Because of this, many divorced parents have an increased desire to maintain their relationship with their children even after a divorce.”
What needs to be done to ensure that parents can see their children after a divorce? There is a growing need for this nation to find an answer to this question.
Sole custody causing headaches
A key factor behind disputes involving divorced couples over their children’s custody is a Civil Code stipulation that parental prerogatives are granted to either the mother or father–not both.
The parent who obtains custody assumes rights and duties for his or her child, such as the duty to educate the child and the right to control any assets they might have. However, the parent without parental authority can claim almost no rights concerning their children.
In fact, mothers win in 90 percent of court decisions concerning the custody of a child–known as mediation and determination proceedings.
There is no provision in the Civil Code referring to the visitation rights of a parent living separately from his or her child, so whether the absent parent can meet the child depends on the wishes of the former partner who has been granted custody.
If the parent who has custody refuses to let his or her child meet with the former spouse in a court mediation, it is difficult to arrange visits.
Even if the parent living separately from his or her child or children is allowed to visit, the chances are limited–for example, to once a month. Moreover, if the parents who have custody ignore the court’s decision to grant their spouses visiting rights, there is almost no legal recourse to implement such visits.
Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura said: “The current system strongly reflects the Japanese family system established in the Meiji era [1868-1912]. Since that time, parental authority has been regarded as the right of the parents to control their children, so couples fight over it.”
Meanwhile, as the number of divorces increased from the 1970s to the ’90s in Europe and the United States, such countries began allowing joint custody, in which former couples cooperate in bringing up their children even after breaking up.
Lawyer Takao Tanase, who also serves as a professor at Chuo University, said: “[In such countries,] the rights of parents who live separately from their children after divorce to visit and communicate with their children are recognized, and such visits occur regularly. For example, there are cases in which such parents meet with their children once a fortnight and spend the weekend together.”
The number of international marriages is increasing yearly–reaching a record high of 18,774 cases in 2008–and the difference in the custody system between Japan and foreign countries causes serious problems when a Japanese splits from his or her foreign spouse.
Cases in which Japanese living in foreign countries take their children back to Japan after divorcing a foreign spouse have become an international problem. The Foreign Ministry confirmed 73 such incidents in the United States, 36 in Canada, 35 in France and 33 in Britain.
There is an international law to deal with such disputes. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction stipulates that if a former husband or wife takes his or her child or children to another country without the consent of the former spouse, the spouse can apply to bring the child back to the country where they were living. Member countries assume an obligation to cooperate in bringing the child back to the home country.
Many European countries and the United States have joined the convention, but Japan has yet to ratify it. International pressure on Japan to adopt the convention is growing.
“We need to separate the problems of parent-child relationships from the problems between couples. We need to establish laws enabling children to meet with the parent who is living separately after divorce, with the exception of cases in which the child is exposed to potential physical danger by meeting the parent,” Tanase said.
“In Japan, divorce is becoming increasingly common, and it’s important to accept the idea that divorced couples will share child-rearing duties even after divorce,” he added.
(Feb. 3, 2010)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Japan and India are among America’s key allies. Yet to scores of embittered parents across the U.S., they are outlaw states when it comes to the wrenching phenomenon of “international child abduction.
The frustrations of these “left-behind” parents run deep. They seethe over Japan’s and India’s noncompliance with U.S. court orders regarding children taken by the other parent to the far side of the world, and many also fault top U.S. leaders for reluctance to ratchet up the pressure for change.
More than 80 nations have signed an accord aimed at curtailing such incidents, but only a handful of Asian countries are among them. Of the continent’s nonsignatories, Japan and India pose the biggest problem for the U.S. — accounting for more than 300 cases, involving more than 400 children, opened by the State Department since 1994. The State Department says it cares deeply about international parental child abductions, and a surge is expected.
The department’s special adviser on children’s issues, Susan Jacobs, and its top official for Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, have raised the topic on multiple occasions.
Campbell used the word “kidnapping” in protesting the many cases in Japan where mothers living overseas with foreign husbands returned home with their children and kept the fathers from having contact with them.
“This is a hard job — we don’t get as many successes as we want,” said Stefanie Eye, chief of the State Department’s Eastern Hemisphere abductions division. “We want every child in the right place.”
Yet many of the parents feel current U.S. efforts are inadequate, as does their most vocal champion in Congress, Republican Rep. Chris Smith.
After Republicans take control of the House in January, Smith hopes to become chairman of a subcommittee with oversight of human rights issues and use that post to push a bill that would toughen the U.S. approach to child abductions.
The bill would establish the Office on International Child Abductions within the State Department, and create a mechanism for imposing sanctions on uncooperative countries.
“We need the full weight of the federal government behind each and every one of these left-behind parents,” Smith said. “My bill doesn’t guarantee success, but it guarantees their cases will not be ignored. . . . We’re not going to quit until it’s law.”
Smith wrote to President Barack Obama on Nov. 10 — prior to Obama’s recent Asia trip — urging him to step up pressure on Japan to resolve the pending cases. Simply encouraging Japan to join the Hague Convention isn’t sufficient, Smith said, because it wouldn’t be retroactive and thus wouldn’t help parents like Patrick Braden and Scott Sawyer.
Another frustrated father is Michael Elias, 26, a former marine who served in Iraq and now works as a sheriff’s deputy in New Jersey. According to his testimony to Congress, Elias obtained a court order in October 2008 awarding him joint custody of his two children amid the breakup of his marriage to a woman he had met in Japan. He said the woman flew to Tokyo with the children two months later, in defiance of the order, and he has been unable to see them or speak to them by phone even though he has now been awarded full custody by a U.S. court. Elias — whose son is 3 and daughter almost 5 — has attended several informational meetings convened by the State Department for left-behind parents. “Every meeting I’ve ever been to, everybody tells me they’re working better, but I don’t see any progress at all,” he said.
Smith, in September, helped push a resolution through the House of Representatives urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention and return abducted American children. “Americans are fed up with our friend and ally Japan,” Smith said at the time.
In response, the Japanese Embassy in Washington said Japan is making “sincere efforts to deal with this issue from the standpoint that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost importance.”
Many times previously, Japan has said it would consider signing the Hague Convention, but it also has expressed concern that doing so might leave some Japanese women and their children vulnerable to abusive foreign husbands.
Stefanie Eye said that in Japan, unlike many Western countries, it’s accepted practice that only one parent — usually the mother — has custody of a child after a divorce. That leaves many fathers, including foreigners, unable to see their children until they are grown up because of lack of visitation rights. “Part of what we’re doing is offering the Hague country perspective of why it’s important for children to have access to both parents,” Eye said.
The State Department says it knows of no cases where a child taken from the U.S. to Japan by one parent has been ordered by a Japanese court to return to the U.S.
Despite the slow movement in Asia, Eye said she found cause for encouragement: The Foreign Ministry recently opened an office to deal with abduction issues and has been asking “good questions” about the impact if Tokyo signed the Hague Convention.
Craig Morrey told me a great story about a 5th Grader making a difference. The following is what Craig said:
When raising my severely disabled son alone while fighting in a dysfunctional court system to defend my daughter’s rights to be with her father and brother seems overwhelming, I remind myself of Einstein’s quote- “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”.
Focusing on the opportunity my family was given, I chose to publicly share our story to raise awareness of the critical need to reform Japanese Family Courts. I was exceptionally pleased, not to mention quite surprised, when Leena Balanag contacted me after her teacher shared our Metropolis story with her class.
Leena, a 5th grade student at Tokyo’s K’s International School, chose custody laws as the topic of her final school project with a special emphasis on my children Spencer and Amelia. With her mother Joyce’s help, she interviewed numerous experts, although she was disappointed to find the Foreign Ministry’s Division for Issues Related to Child Custody completely uncooperative.
On May 8th, Leena and her mother traveled to Okazaki to meet her final interviewees- Spencer and me. She proved to have a firm grasp of the subject, an inquiring mind, and a sincere desire to see changes in the system and to help Spencer- qualities that belie her age. More importantly, we all became fast friends.
After returning to Tokyo, Leena started a blog to discuss her findings/ custody issues (http://www.letsbefriendscampaign.blogspot.com/), presented her project at the school exhibition and started working on a children’s petition to ask why Japanese law takes away one parent after divorce. Leena is an excellent advocate for children. Spencer and I are honored to work with Leena to continue building momentum to bring about positive changes. Please visit her blog for updates on her petition and to learn how you can help.
To learn how to help please follow the link www.foreveryourfather.comRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
« Previous Entries