Japan Times’ series on divorce and child abduction in Japan, in part inspired by Debito.org


Hi Blog. On Tuesday, August 7, 2007, the Japan Times ran three articles from Michael Hassett, Colin Jones, and Mark Smith, on divorce and child abduction in Japan. Wonderful!

But first, a word from one of the authors, Michael Hassett. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

August 6, 2007
Dear Debito,

I just wanted to let you know that an e-mail exchange that we had about two months ago has surprisingly developed into an article that will be published in “The Japan Times” tomorrow. I have attached the full version. A few small changes might be made.

For the print version of the newspaper, the article had to be shortened to a thousand words–so we just included the part about Japan, along with the conclusion–but a reference will be made to the full version, which will be posted online.

It is my understanding that this is going to be one in a collection of three articles–all on the themes of divorce, child custody, and child abduction–that will be published across the community and lifestyle sections tomorrow.

A lot of the credit for this article belongs to you. Your e-mail containing the story about your trip back to upstate New York and the emotional visits that you had with your daughter stimulated me to contemplate the likelihood of such events occurring, as I expressed in the e-mail that I then sent to you, the details of which I researched afterward to confirm the estimates I initially made.

I know that I and possibly many others do not provide feedback that often, but rest assured that we often find your reports stimulating and appreciate the time you take to keep us all informed. Michael Hassett, Tokyo


Losing custody: the odds
Special to The Japan Times, August 6, 2007


The turmoil of an acquaintance’s divorce recently caused me to contemplate the predictability of falling into such a mess.

This particular individual has not seen one of his children since July 2004, two years before his divorce was even finalized. A separate friend informed me that that ¥2 million and a good lawyer were able to convince his ex-wife to allow him access to his daughter three times a year — yet for only 30 minutes each time and with the provision that he was not allowed to tell his daughter that he was her biological father.

Many of us have heard of high-profile cases of divorce in Japan — such as former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi going two decades without seeing his youngest son, and the two children of Murray Wood being taken from their home in Canada by their Japanese mother — and we sympathize with the parents and particularly the children involved in these complex, highly emotional clashes.

But, increasingly in Japan, parents are divorcing, and one parent — usually the father — is losing custody of any children created during the marriage.

For those contemplating marriage in Japan or those currently in seemingly happy marriages here — particularly men — thoughts must be, “Could this happen to me? What is the risk?”

Specifically, can we determine the probability that a man who marries in Japan will have at least one child with his spouse, then divorce, and subsequently lose custody of any children? This likelihood is not that difficult to calculate, and sadly, it is rather high — over 21 percent…

Rest of the article at:


How will Japan respond?
Special to The Japan Times, August 7, 2007


Japan has gotten a reputation as a haven for international parental child abduction. Cases making the news tend to be like that of Murray Wood, whose two children were spirited to Japan by their Japanese mother, even though Wood was granted custody by a Canadian court. A Saitama judge ignored the Canadian judgment by ratifying the children’s Japanese living arrangements. This story is hardly unique, as is evidenced by a list on the Children’s Rights Network of Japan Web site (www.crnjapan.com), which was set up by aggrieved non-Japanese parent.

The term “Japanese family law” may seem like an oxymoron to anyone who has experienced the well-intentioned but often ineffectual efforts of Japan’s family courts in child-custody cases, particularly when a foreign parent is involved. Some foreign consular officers are privately scathing when discussing such cases. Diplomats from one G-8 country who discussed the problem with family-court representatives were even told that in such disputes, custody would always be awarded to the Japanese parent — because only they, not the foreign parent, have a family register.

The U.S. State Department’s Web site describes compliance with Japanese family-court orders as “essentially voluntary, which renders any ruling unenforceable unless both parents agree.” Since the courts cannot enforce the return of an abducted child or visitation, they often seem to take the easy way out by finding the status quo to be in the best interests of the children involved. How else can they avoid appearing powerless and irrelevant?

Rest of the article at:

U.S. takes tougher line on abductions to Japan
Special to The Japan Times, August 7, 2007


Despite Ronald MacKinnon’s fears that his child would be abducted, the New Jersey Supreme Court in the U.S. recently gave permission for his divorced Japanese wife, Erika, to relocate with their daughter to Okinawa. On July 30, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay, so Erika is free to leave.

One might think that these precedents would have custodial parents racing to resubmit requests for international relocation. But instead, we may be about to witness a tsunami of cases similar to MacKinnon’s, albeit with a different outcome.

The gist of the NJSC ruling was that special factors are not required to distinguish international from domestic relocations. They reaffirmed that neither “fear (of abduction) alone” nor a country not being a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction should unnecessarily penalize a law-abiding parent. But two important aspects may have been overlooked.

First, the NJSC repeatedly pointed out that Erika had returned with Justine from trips to Japan in the past. Why, they queried, would she now choose to abduct?

The answer is that without a court’s permission to relocate, removing a child to Japan is a clear criminal violation. In such cases, the court typically awards sole custody to the left-behind parent within weeks or even days of the abduction and both local and federal arrest warrants for the Japanese parent are forthcoming. An Interpol notice follows, which makes the abducting parent subject to detention in countries worldwide — a prisoner within Japan. But when a court has given permission to relocate, the hurdles to proving a crime grow tremendously, complicated by thousands of miles and a legal system not very responsive on matters of international comity.

Rest of the article at


1 comment on “Japan Times’ series on divorce and child abduction in Japan, in part inspired by Debito.org

  • Ae-Kyung Kim says:

    I am currently going through a divorce and while in the process, my husband came to visit me at my mother’s place in osaka (he lives in Fukuoka), and stole my older son, who was then two and six months old. He not only did come alone, but he brought his father and his worker from his company to take kidnapp my son. I have two children, but he was only interested in the older son and left the daughter, then a year and a half behind. This kidnapp all happened during sunday afternoon at a park in osaka, and there was little that the police did to help me. This was a year and a half ago. I have been going to Fukuoka every month with my lawyer to get a proper visitation with my son, but I have been denined and I have seen him only twice in this long period of hell. The worst thing is, my son was really young when he was taken so he seems to have forgotten me.
    My story is a long story and not a happy one, so I will stop here, but the series of stories that I read on Japan Times made me realize that I am not alone in this. The Japanese law enforces no parental rights and I am so stressed at fighting for my rights. I really did not know how to begin or end this but I hope there are organizations that help solve this crazy problem.


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