It’s every non-custodial parent’s nightmare: your child is taken to another country, where your access rights are not enforced and where the authorities will do nothing to return the child home, regardless of what the courts in your own country have ordered.
It’s a nightmare come true for people whose children have been surreptitiously taken to states which have not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, most notoriously Japan. One American father resorted to particularly desperate measures:
A Tennessee man who was arrested after trying to ‘snatch’ his own abducted children back from Japan has been awarded $6.1 million from his ex-wife.
Christopher Savoie, 40, now faces an up hill battle with Japanese authorities to enforce the judgement and actually get the money on behalf of his children, 10-year-old Isaac and 8-year-old Rebecca.
Mr Savoie’s Japanese ex-wife, Noriko Esaki Savoie, fled with the children in 2009.
The desperate father drew international attention after he tried unsuccessfully to snatch them back they walked to school – resulting in a three week stint in a Japanese prison.
Soon after the abduction in January 2009, a Tennessee court issued a warrant for her arrest and gave the father full custody.
But the order had no effect because Japan hasn’t signed an international treaty governing child abduction.
After years of international pressure, however, Japan is finally moving toward signing the Hague Convention, closing this loophole for people who try to keep their children away from their other parents:
Japan moved closer Friday to joining an international child-custody agreement that would give rights to non-Japanese parents involved in disputes with Japanese citizens.
The Japanese cabinet said it approved a plan to submit legislation to Parliament by the end of the year to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
“It is desirable for our country to be consistent with international standards,” Yukio Edano, the government’s chief cabinet secretary, said at a news conference.
The only Group of 7 nation that has yet to sign the convention, Japan has come under increasing criticism by the Unites States, Canada and several European nations for refusing to join the agreement. In most cases of child abduction involving a Japanese parent and a foreign parent, Japanese mothers married to foreigners have returned to Japan with their children, denying the fathers access to their children.
The ambassadors of the United States and 11 other nations released a joint statement last year pressing Japan to join the agreement. “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,” they said.
In Japan, custody is usually given to the mother in the case of a divorce. Many fathers never see their children again, at least until adulthood, because the courts do not recognize joint custody.
Interestingly, in the recent case of Y.N. v. D.M., the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division) ruled that a mother could move to Japan with a minor child, over the (incarcerated) father’s objections. Even if a custodial parent plans to move to a country which has not signed the Hague Convention, that may still be in the best interests of the child.
A list of signatories to the Convention can be found here. (Russia is also conspicuous by its absence.)