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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One Response to “Children caught in international tug-of-war as Japan hesitates to ratify Hague Convention”

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One story after another appears with the identical pattern, the same lawyers’ advice, the same words. The child was two, the husband was abusive and “refused to take care of the child.” The “violence” of the husband causes her to “flee” to Japan.The courts regard the husband, who is still in the child’s home country as a “missing person” and the wife is granted “100% custody” in Japanese court, hardly surprising because there is no other kind of custody. Why are these tactics employed again and again, the stories barely varying, over and over? Because lawyers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice officials all use the same playbook.When will Japan acknowledge that repeated unsubstantiated allegations do not justify kidnapping children and taking them away from the Daddies who love them? The obvious abuse here is the abuse of children whose well being is sacrificed for the selfish whims of parental kidnappers. It is a disgrace.


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