Clear, fair rules needed for international divorces


February 11, 2014

Source: Asahi.com

Globalization does not always bring about happy endings.

When an internationally married couple is going through a contentious divorce, in which country’s court of law should the dispute be resolved?

japanese_Child_Abduction

Currently, there is no clear rule on this matter. All the courts can do is to decide the jurisdiction depending on the case. This situation has long caused huge headaches for those involved.

Belatedly, Japan’s Justice Ministry has asked its advisory body, the Legislative Council, to come up with proposals on the issue. We hope the council will swiftly put together a set of easy-to-understand rules.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 16,000 divorces in Japan in 2012 involving a non-Japanese spouse. This is twice the figure of 20 years ago, and accounts for 7 percent of all divorces.

In the case of international divorces, the question of which country to seek legal recourse in is an important matter. Going through the legal process in a country with a foreign language and a foreign legal system is grueling work.

Even if the plaintiff is Japanese, there is no guarantee that the arbitration or trial can be held in Japan if the spouse resides in a foreign country. This is because consideration should be given to the spouse who would be the defendant in the case.

In Japan’s current legal system, the tentative basic rule is that court proceedings should be undertaken in the country of the defending spouse’s residence. There have been exceptions, however, when the defending foreign spouse is missing, for example. Japanese courts deal with such cases even if the defendant does not reside in Japan.

In some previous cases when the defendant was not in Japan, Japanese courts went ahead with legal proceedings on the grounds that the divorce approved by a court in the spouse’s country was invalid in Japan.

Japan_Child_Abduction

The individual situations of each divorce are so varied that setting uniform standards is a difficult process. This has long been considered an international conundrum since countries and cultures have different acceptance levels when it comes to divorce.

Unlike in Japan, where many couples divorce by agreement, divorce by trial is the usual procedure in a number of countries. Some countries basically do not allow divorce.

Given these factors, it would be inappropriate to create a system based only on Japan’s situation. A broad international perspective is necessary.

In recent years, parts of the European Union have attempted to establish common rules about jurisdiction of divorce court proceedings. Under these proposals, initial jurisdiction would be in the hands of the couple’s current country of residence, second jurisdiction would be in the country where the couple most recently lived together, and so on.

We need deeper discourse to decide what rules are appropriate for Japan. We would also have to contemplate sharing those rules with some countries.

The important thing is to establish standards that are as comprehensible and fair as possible to lighten the load of the parties involved and smooth their paths toward restarting their lives after divorce.

This is a cumbersome business, but the number of cross-border marriages and divorces will continue to grow. The endeavors of the legal system must not be left behind by changes in the real world.

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Japan remains a nightmare when it comes to parental child abductions


December 29, 2013

Source: Vancouver Sun

There are few more heart-wrenching stories than those of parental child abductions. Forget the emotional dynamics that drive ex-wives and ex-husbands to use their children as weapons in an ongoing war. The greatest damage inflicted is on little kids, which is why for the past 35 years all but Japan among the developed countries in the world and dozens of others have signed on to the Hague Convention of Child Abduction.

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The convention requires signatory countries to honour the court orders of other member states. The goal is to protect children’s right to have access to both of their parents.  And while the Hague Convention’s application isn’t always perfect, it’s the best we’ve got so far. Of course, it would be better if more countries signed on and then lived up to both the convention’s letter and spirit.

I’ve written a number of stories, most recently an update on five-year-old Max Kawabata-Morness, who was abducted July 26 by his mother Chie Kawabata. In the column, which follows below, I mentioned that as far as I knew Canada has never put pressure on Japan to either ratify or enforce the Hague Convention.

It turns out I was wrong. Strangely, the correction didn’t come from Prime Minister Stephen Harper or anyone in the Canadian government. The mistake was pointed out by  — Capt. Paul Toland, executive assistant to the deputy surgeon general of the U.S. Navy. Toland’s daughter, Erika, was less than a year old when she was abducted by her Japanese mother in August 2003. His last contact with her was in July 2004.

(Toland’s story is one of five in a documentary of parental child abductions called From the Shadows.)

Toland provided me a link to a 2006 Kyodo News International report on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first meeting with Japan’s then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Here’s part of what that report says: “Harper, who took office in February, was meeting Koizumi for the first time, took the Japanese delegation by surprise when he brought up the issue of parental child abductions and called on Japan to accede to the Hague Convention.”

Toland also gave me a link to a Japanese government press release from the June 17, 2013 meeting between Harper and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that referenced Harper’s 2006 comments about the Hague Convention and updated him on Japan’s intention to become a signatory.

Of  course, as I noted in my Nov. 1 column, Japan’s enabling legislation appears to have a massive loophole that would allow Japanese judges to reject any foreign court orders regarding children that run contrary to Japanese “custom.”

Here’s the column.

Kris Morness and his son, Max Kawabata-Morness, in Vancouver a few weeks before the five-year-old was abducted by his Japanese-American and taken to Japan.

Kris Morness and his son, Max Kawabata-Morness, in Vancouver a few weeks before the five-year-old was abducted by his Japanese-American and taken to Japan.

Kris Morness spent thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to ensure that his worst fear wouldn’t come true. It was a waste of the Vancouver father’s time, money and effort.

On July 26, his ex-wife Chie Kawabata abducted their fiveyear-old son, Max. A Washington court had previously denied Kawabata’s request to move with Max to Japan, ordering her to remain in Kirkland, Wash., and comply with the court-approved parental order, which included Max having regular visits with Morness in Vancouver and frequent Skype calls.

After Max missed a scheduled Skype call, Morness contacted Kirkland police, who determined that Kawabata had flown on a one-way ticket and had arranged to ship “500 pounds of household goods and personal effects” to Tokyo.

On Sept. 15, King County Superior Court issued a warrant for Kawabata’s arrest on the charge of custodial interference in the first degree, with bail set at $100,000. The prosecutor’s report noted that “the State has serious concerns about the well-being and whereabouts of the five-year-old child as well as the defendant’s unwillingness to follow court orders.”

But Morness’s court orders and even the arrest warrant aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as Kawabata stays in Japan.

The arrest warrant is only valid in the United States and there’s no way that a Japanese

court will honour the court orders. Simply put, from a stolen child’s point of view or that of a left-behind parent, Japan is one of the worst places in the world.

There’s no firm estimate of how many Canadian children have been abducted to Japan and not returned, but I know of at least six including Max.

And while Canadian politicians don’t appear to have ever raised this abuse of both human rights and children’s rights with their Japanese counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama spoke of the more than 120 abducted American kids often enough that Japan’s parliament agreed this Spring that it would ratify the Hague Convention on child abduction. Japan has yet to implement the legislation. And even if it had, while it may meet the Hague Convention requirements, it doesn’t appear to reflect its spirit.

The convention has been in place for nearly 35 years and requires that signatory countries respect and implement each other’s Family Court orders. The goal is to protect children from the trauma of abduction and ensure that children don’t end up stateless without any legal rights.

Before any foreign order would be enforced, a Japanese judge would have to agree to allow it. And that’s no easy thing.

According to information provided to me by the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa, the foreign court where the judgment was made would have to have international trial jurisdiction over the case “based on Japanese standards.”

Additionally, the legislation would only require a Japanese court to enforce a foreign judgment if it and the legal procedures of the foreign court are “not against the manners and customs or public order in Japan.”

So, what is Japanese custom? A year ago, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation asked Japanese legislator Masao Ido about parental abductions.

“While Westerners call it abduction, it’s common among the Japanese that a mother and child return to the mother’s parents after a divorce,” said Ido, a member of the judicial affairs committee. “If anything, (the Japanese) think it is not a bad thing. It’s really a custom.”

Ido snatched her own three children after her marriage ended. “Like other parents, I left a note so the other parent knew where the children were and understood that they were in a safe place.”

Morness holds out hope that Kawabata may change her mind and bring Max back. That would seem to be the best outcome for everyone.

But that rarely seems to happen. Like Morness, Richmond teacher Murray Wood spent thousands of dollars trying to get his son and daughter back. His son, who is now an adult, returned to Canada earlier this year after spending nine years in Japan. His daughter remains in Japan.

(Wood’s story is one of five documented in a film called From The Shadows, which is being screened Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Roundhouse at 1181 Seymour Street in Vancouver.) Morness worries every day about Max. But since September and around the time of the arrest warrant being issued, Kawabata agreed to resume Max’s Skype calls with his father.

Morness says the calls seem to be made at Starbucks and the connection isn’t great. The calls are often brief, ending abruptly when he asks questions like whether Max wants to come home.

Morness also isn’t certain whether his son is in school.

Even though Max has only been gone for three months, Morness has noticed that his little boy’s English is more heavily accented than before and the phrasing is a bit off. That’s another huge concern, he says, because English is the only language Morness speaks.

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Parental Child Kidnapping – Already a Common Occurrence by 1856


The following article is noteworthy for offering evidence, in its comment on the case of a Mr. Thompson, “which has all too many parallels in California,” suggesting that parental kidnapping was already, by the 1850s quite a common ocurrance in the United States

***
FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 2): We would call attention to an advertisement in another column, under the caption of “Information Wanted.”  Mr. Thompson has called on us, and told us his story. It is one which has all too many parallels in California, yet he is entitled to heartfelt sympathy. It seems that about five months ago, he sailed for China, leaving his wife and two children in San Francisco. Before leaving he gave his wife $375, with which to pay her passage by the steamer to New York, he expecting to return to China by Cape Horn. The vessel, however, took passengers for San Francisco, and returned to New York, but was living at Vallejo with a man named John Forman, as his mistress.
Thither Thompson went, but found the parties had come to this city, some two weeks previous. He followed here, learned their arrival about that time, but could obtain no further certain clue to them. Partial information leads him to the belief that they went from here to Sonora. Mr. Thompson merely desires to recover the possession of his two children (girls), respectively six and eight years of age. John Forman, the despoiler of his happiness, is represented as being a ship caulker by trade; is a stout built man, about five feet six inches in height, with red whiskers.
The eldest child, Eliza, is of light complexion, blue eyes and has lost two of the lower front teeth. The youngest is of dark complexion and has a scar on the forehead. Any information of the parties will be thankfully received by Ananias Thompson (who appears to be as highly respectable man) at the Globe Hotel, corner of Davis and Chambers street, San Francisco.
NOTE: The comment “all too many parallels” indicates that parental kidnapping was already recognized as a “social problem” by 1856 in California.
November 18, 2013
[“A Recreant Wife,” Weekly San Juan Republican (Stockton, Ca.), Jul. 5, 1856, p. 3]
thompson-all-too-many-1856
Paragraph breaks not in original
***
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 2): We published the other day a case of seduction and desertion, the aggravated party being Mr. Ananias Thompson. In the account we published, it was stated that the seducer was a person named John Forman. From the Bay papers it would seem that the recreant parties had separated, Mrs. Thompson, alias Mrs. Forman, having left her last paramour, a married man at San Francisco named Dougherty. Mr. Thompson learned the fact, applied at the police office for a warrant for her arrest for the purpose of recovering possession of his two little girls, but the papers state, [sic] he was informed that he could not testify against his wife, except in a case of assault and battery. He then obtained a friend, cognizant of the facts, to make the complaint, and the warrant was issued.
[“Charge Of Bigamy,” Weekly San Juan Republican (Stockton, Ca.), Jul. 12, 1856, p. 2]

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Tacoma police conduct child abduction drill


September 13, 2013

Source: kirotv.com

TACOMA, Wash. — 

Tacoma police conducted a child abduction drill Thursday. Everything about the drill was supposed to feel real, all the way down to how they brief the media to get the word out.

Tacoma_Police

The drill is practice for something they said has happened too often in Tacoma — 16 child abductions in about the last 50 years.

It was a nightmare scenario for parents. A girl in a park abducted by a stranger vanished as police moved to find her and her kidnapper before it’s too late.

But this was not a real abduction, it was a drill by the Tacoma Police Department’s Child Abduction Response Team or CART. The drill conducted Thursday morning on the city’s northeast side is part of an effort for police to win national certification, making them one of 20 CART teams nationwide and the only one in Washington state.

One notable abduction was that of Teeka Lewis, who disappeared in 1999. Her mother still goes back every year to the place she vanished. At the time, 2-year-old Lewis disappeared from a bowling alley that has since become a Home Depot

Teresa Lewis, Teekah’s mother, said watching the drill brought back memories of her daughter’s disappearance. “It’s like I’m reliving that day,” said Lewis.

Teekah Lewis is one of 16 children abducted by a stranger in the city of Tacoma since 1961. Tacoma police said that number is considered high among law enforcement.

The training hopes to better the law enforcement response to similar situations in the future.

Thursday’s drill was part of a certification process conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Criminal Justice Training Center. Police Detective Lindsey Wade said having a CART team in place when an abduction happens gives police what they need most: an organizational structure for rapid response that helps cut the amount of time it takes to get law enforcement mobilized, civilian resources in place to filter through tips and telephone calls and to alert news media outlets to broadcast information that can lead to valuable clues.

“About 76 percent of the time when a child is killed during a stereotypical abduction, it happens within three hours,” said Wade, “so that’s not a lot of time for us to react.”

There were people from different departments who will work on how to respond to abductions more efficiently.

The drill ended with a Tacoma police SWAT team locating the suspect, who was portrayed by a police officer, and the victim, a teenage actor, well before the deadline.

Alan Wolochuck, an assessor with the U.S. Department of Justice, praised the department’s performance after the drill. “They did very well. One of the best that we’ve seen around the country,” said Wolochuck.

Lewis said she believes the abduction of her daughter, along with other unsolved cases, helped spur the department to assemble the CART team. “The resources they have now, I wish they had them back then so she would have been found,” said Lewis.

A decision on the team’s application for national certification is expected to take about two weeks.

Related

Child abduction drill in Tacoma photo
Child abduction drill in Tacoma
VIDEO: Tacoma police conduct child abduction training gallery

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Trinidad And Tobago Accedes To 1980 Hague Convention


May 31, 2013

Source: Jamaica-Gleaner.com

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Trinidad and Tobago says it has acceded to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects on International Child Abduction.

map-Trinidad-Tobago

The Convention, also known as The Hague Abduction Convention, is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member nation to another.

The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seeks to combat parental child abduction by providing a system of co-operation between Central Authorities and a rapid procedure for the return of the child to the country of the child’s habitual residence. The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16.

“Although international child abduction is not a new problem, the incidence of such abductions continues to grow with the ease of international travel, the increase in bi-cultural marriages and the rise in the divorce rate. International child abductions have serious consequences for both the child and the left-behind parent,” according to a government statement issued here.

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“ The child is removed, not only from contact with the other parent, but also from his or her home environment and transplanted to a culture with which he or she may have had no prior ties. International abductors move the child to another State with a different legal system, social structure, culture and, often, language. These differences, plus the physical distance generally involved, can make locating, recovering and returning internationally abducted children complex and problematic.”

The statement said that in keeping with the measures outlined in the convention, the Civil Child Abduction Authority has since been established “to deal with all matters relating to the civil aspects of international child abduction between Trinidad and Tobago and contracting territories”.

It said that so far Trinidad and Tobago has partnered with 48 countries.

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Parental Kidnapping – Now a Global Issue


May 27, 2013

Source: Boston Herald

On International Missing Children’s Day, marked May 25th, we remembered the thousands of missing children and the parents who grieve and plead for help. Since 2008, more than 7,000 American children have been abducted to a foreign country — not by a stranger, but by their other parent.

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Such children are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and may experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness.

Members of Congress have seen the lopsided battles our constituents face to bring their children home from a foreign jurisdiction. Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey, has not held his children since 2008, when his ex-wife used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct Jade and Michael Jr. in violation of New Jersey court orders. Japan has refused to return the children or prosecute the abductor.

Elias told Congress, “All my hopes and dreams for their future now lie in the hands of others. … I am begging our government to help not only my family, but hundreds of other heartbroken families as well, to demand the return of our American children who are being held in Japan.”

Colin Bower’s children, Noor and Ramsay, were abducted from their home in Boston to Egypt nearly four years ago by their mother — who had lost custody because of her drug use and psychological problems. The Egyptian government facilitated the abduction by issuing fraudulent Egyptian passports, providing passage on the government-owned airline, and by shielding the mother, who comes from a well-connected family, from any accountability or responsibility.

American_Child

At a recent hearing Bower noted the billions of dollars in U.S. assistance to Egypt and observed, “Regardless of whatever moral, fiscal, or political balance you use, providing uninterrupted aid to a partner that acts this way is quite simply wrong. If this is American foreign policy, it’s flawed and it isn’t working. We aren’t getting what we pay for.”

Tragically, the Obama administration has limited itself to diplomatic requests for the return of the children. In the words of Bernard Aronson, former assistant secretary of state of inter-American affairs, “a diplomatic request for which there is no real consequence for refusal is simply a sophisticated form of begging.”

It is time for a new approach. That is why we have introduced H.R. 1951, the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013, which will give the president powerful tools to motivate a country’s quick response for the return of abducted children.

If a country has 10 or more cases not being resolved in a timely manner, or the judiciary, or law enforcement, or other responsible entity is persistently failing to fulfill their obligations, the president can take action to aggressively advocate for our children’s return — such as denying certain assistance, canceling cultural exchanges, opposing international loans, or extraditing the abductor.

This bill creates the expectation of action — not just words — to bring every American child home. In the words of then-Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry at the 2012 passage of a Senate resolution calling for the return of the Bower children, we must “remain focused like a laser beam until this father is reunited with his two boys,” and every other abducted American child comes home. We can, and must, do more than talk.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R) represents New Jersey’s 4th District.

 

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Countries around the world honor International Missing Children’s Day on May 25


May 25 , 2013

International Missing Children’s Day on May 25

To commemorate International Missing Children’s Day, law enforcement and non-governmental organisations across four continents are holding events to raise awareness about the need for collaboration and a coordinated response to help protect children from abduction and going missing.

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They are part of the Global Missing Children’s Network – a program of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) – which helps bring attention to the vulnerability of children who are missing and abducted.

It’s a problem facing every country and it needs the attention of law enforcement and government officials around the world.  It is estimated that at least 8 million children worldwide go missing each year or 22,000 a day. Unfortunately, many countries do not view it as a priority and thus don’t have appropriate mechanisms in place to recover missing children who are at high risk of being exploited into trafficking and prostitution. Every country should implement policies and legislation to tackle the issue and protect children’s right to grow up in a safe environment. This will require coordinated efforts between all sectors from law enforcement agencies, government, and non-governmental agencies to private industry.

Arizona_Missing_Girl_Carr_t618

It is also important to teach children how to stay safe and inform them of risks they may encounter. To achieve this, adults should take the time to provide children with the tools they need to recognise danger and to talk with them about specific ways to stay safe. ICMEC, through the Global Network, has developed prevention tips to help parents, guardians and other adults discuss safety with children. These tips are available in 10 different languages.

Each year, since 1983, May 25 has been commemorated to remember children who are still missing, children who have been reunited with their families, and to help bring this global issue to the attention of government and society.

 

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