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After years of international pressure, Japan signs Hague Convention

History was made last week when Japan made the final signature required to officially join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions, the treaty that requires participating nations to promptly return abducted children to the nations where they naturally reside.

What makes this final ratification so historic is that Japan had long been resistant to intense pressure from both the United States and other European nations to sign the treaty. However, with this final step, Japan no longer bears the dubious distinction of being the only member of the Group of Eight, the group comprised of the world's most industrialized economies, not to have signed the Hague Convention. 

From a practical perspective, this move should help cut down on the thousands of painful custody cases involving fathers whose divorced spouses -- Japanese nationals -- flee without court permission to their native country, where the courts are well-known for almost never recognizing foreign family court orders or granting child custody rights to foreign fathers.

As of April 1, the Japanese Foreign Ministry will have to start honoring requests from parents in these situations to find their missing children and initiate steps to resolve the matter via arbitration or other legal channels.

Under the terms of the Hague Convention, if a married couple divorces and proceeds to live in separate countries, jurisdiction on any parental rights/custody matters concerning any children under the age of 16 belongs to the courts in the country where the family resided prior to the end of the marriage.  

In the event that a parent who illegally abducts a child to Japan refuses to return the child to the appropriate country, the matter will be taken to one of two family courts in Tokyo or Osaka for a final decision. Here, the court has the authority to refuse the return of the child if it finds evidence the child could be subjected to danger or abuse.

It should be noted that the move is not retroactive, meaning parents with international abduction cases in Japan predating April 1 are not covered by the Hague Convention. However, these parents are permitted to call on government officials for assistance.

It should be interesting to see if the number of international child custody disputes involving Japan declines over the next year ...

Those fathers with concerns about child custody, visitation rights or relocations here in Texas should strongly consider speaking with an experienced fathers' rights attorney dedicated to protecting their best interests in negotiations and contested hearings.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, "Japan finally signs Hague convention governing international child custody disputes," Jan. 25, 2014; The Japan Daily Press, "Japanese Parliament finally ratifies Child Abduction Treaty," John Hofilena, May 22, 2013

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