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Japan finally aligns with scores of other nations on custody treaty

As roundly as its policies in the area have been criticized for many years by other industrialized nations, a recent ameliorative move in the realm of child custody by the Japanese government is now being broadly welcomed and even praised by a number of foreign leaders.

A look at the case concerning American Christopher Savoie provides some insight into what has been going on in Japan and drawing derision from a number of foreign governments for years. Savoie was married to a Japanese national, with both of them residing in Tennessee with their children when they obtained a divorce. Savoie was granted full custody of the children.

The ex-wife subsequently violated the court order by removing the children to Japan. When Savoie traveled there to bring them back, he was arrested and charged with kidnapping. Authorities eventually set him free, but only on the condition that he return to the United States without his children.

Until last week, Japan's signature was prominently missing from that of 89 other signatories to the international Hague Convention on child abduction. That omission has long enabled Japanese women, notwithstanding the particulars of any other nation's court order on custody, to summarily remove their children to Japan and deny the continuing involvement of the other parent. Japanese courts have routinely upheld Japanese law, which in almost all cases gives sole custody to the Japanese female.

Critics of that are now hopeful that at least some meaningful change will ensue following the Japanese Parliament's unanimous vote last week to join the convention.

Non-Japanese parents with already existing claims likely won't share in any gains, however. The convention does not apply retroactively.

Source: Washington Post, "Japan approves joining international child custody treaty amid concerns about abductions," May 22, 2013

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