The divorce rate in Japan is considerably less than in United States but is growing. About one in three Japanese marriages end in divorce, four times the rate in the 1950s and double the rate in the 1970s. The divorce rate has slowed, partly because fewer couples are getting married to begin with.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 253,353 couples were divorced — which works out to one divorce every two minutes and four seconds — and 708,000 were married in 2010. A population survey report by the ministry shows the number of divorce cases in 2009 was about 3.5 times than 50 years ago.

There were 250,000 divorces in 2008. Of these 140,000 had children 20 and under. In 2005, there were 262,000 divorces, down 28,000 from 2002 and up from 16,500 in 1991. A drop in the unemployment rate was seen as one reason for the decline in the divorce rate.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was divorced in 1982. His wife said he was very busy and had little time for her. He said afterwards, "I always say that you need 10 times more energy to go through a divorce than you need for a marriage. The suffering and anguish is even greater when children are involved. I never want to go through that again. For this reason I will likely never marry again."

The divorce rate among middle age couples and couples of retirement age has increased at an especially high rate, 300 percent between the early 1990s and early 2000s. This trend has been blamed on the fact that woman who rarely saw their husbands while they were working can't deal with having them suddenly around the house all the time. In other cases women just got fed up or decided to take action on something they wanted to do for a long time.

The divorce rate is also increasing at a high rate among couples that have been married for 20 years, in many cases because the wife has become fed up with the husband being gone at work all the time and being treated like a servant.

Divorce is losing its stigma. More and more divorced people are finding it easier to remarry and find dates, A 41-year-old divorced man told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Young women seem to be interested in talking to divorced men. They seem to be interested in me as an adult who has experienced both marriage and divorce."

Good Websites and Sources: Legalities and Paperwork tokyo.usembassy.gov ; Divorce in Japan, 1600-2000. Google e-book books.google.com/books ; Wikipedia article on Family Law Wikipedia ;Articles on Divorce family.jrank.org ; Child Custody Issues, Child Resource Network crnjapan.com ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Marriage and Divorce Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp

Links in this Website: MARRIAGE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DATING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WEDDINGS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DIVORCE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Recent History of Divorce in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: In 1946, divorce laws eliminated the old three-line letter whereby a man could dismiss his wife. Before World War II, Japan had one of the highest divorce rates in the world; that high rate is echoed in recent years, following after an all-time postwar low, with the difference that most divorces now are sought by women. Laws still leave alimony rather skimpy, but child-custody now favors the mother instead of the mandatory custody by the husband’s family that prevailed before 1945. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

The attitude of the Japanese people toward divorce has changed as much as their attitude toward marriage. Historically, the divorce rate in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) was higher than the current figure, very probably because men could divorce wives easily, since the social status and human rights of women were regarded as light as a feather. No statistics are available regarding marriage and divorce before Meiji (1868). ++

Like many other democratic practices, the principle of male/female equality was first established throughout the legal structure of modern Japanese society in 1945. The Japanese people used to believe that ending a marriage in divorce for whatever reasons involved a loss of face and honor. Many, particularly among the older generations, still hold to this belief. In this respect, maintaining the marital structure, even when the husband/wife relations are practically broken, is socially acceptable and often the rationale for not divorcing. Considering this background, the divorce rate remained low during the 1950s and 1960s, less than 1.0 per 1,000. By the 1980s, the divorce rate had grown slightly to 1.5 per 1,000. The more recent rate is not much different from the 1980s rate. There are important differences in these general statistics. The divorce rate for couples in their early 20s was 17.0 per 1,000 in 1985, more than ten times the overall average. For couples in their 40s, the rate was 3.6 per 1,000, twice the overall rate. There were about 24 divorces for every 100 Japanese marriages in 1996, compared with 32 per 100 in France, 42 per 100 in England, and 55 per 100 in the United States (Kristoff 1996a). ++

The increased rate of divorce among the young people may come from their immaturity in the social perseverance quality, while the rate among middle-aged people may be the result of changes in the male/female social strength relations. For the latter, factors to be considered include a rebellion of the women against the men-centered social structure, expansion of the economic independence of the housewives, and more promotion of women’s emancipation. This, in turn, provides the starting point for a discussion about the husband/wife roles in the family life in the modern and future Japanese society. ++

Two major factors in Japanese culture have kept the divorce rate very low despite the lack of couple compatibility, communications, and emotional satisfaction. On the male side, shame is still a powerful social and financial sanction, especially in the workplace where many companies are reluctant to promote employees who have divorced or have major problems at home. A divorce is always a negative factor in the employment world. Women also face serious financial consequences from divorce. While child custody goes to the mother in three quarters of all divorces, most Japanese mothers do not have a career or much in the way of financial resources. Only about 15 percent of divorced fathers paid child support in 1996(Kristof 1996a). ++

Getting a Divorce in Japan

The divorce process is pretty simple and straight forward and provides for alimony and child support. Ninety percent of divorces are obtained through mutual agreement sanctioned by filing out and signing a form at a local government office. The details of the divorces are usually worked out by counselors in an office rather than a judge in a courtroom.

New divorce laws in 2007 give a divorced wife the right to 50 percent of husband’s company pension. Many older and middle aged women who wanted divorces reportedly decided to stay in unhappy marriages and wait until the law went into effect before seeking a divorce.

According to Japanese law, the person who is blamed for instigating a divorce is generally not allowed to file for divorce. It is almost impossible for women to use their maiden names after a divorce.

Divorce Manners

In March 2010, Kokushikan University lecturer and business etiquette consultant Chiyoko Anju self-published a series of booklets titled “ Rikon o Purasu ni Suru Rikon Mana “ (“Divorce Manners to Make the Divorce a Good Thing”). When she introduced the booklet on a Web site, rikonmana.com, 100 copies sold out instantly. The booklet covers such topics as things to be careful of when holding a divorce party and how to inform colleagues and friends of one's divorce in writing. [Source: Takashi Kawamura, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 10, 2010]

Anju was inspired to write the book after reading an article about divorce overseas on the Internet. The article mentioned that some ex-couples gave presents to colleagues and friends when they divorced. This made Anju think that some people might worry about the proper etiquette concerning divorce."It may no longer be taboo, but I think guidance is still needed on how to proceed with a divorce," she said.

In one survey, 49 percent of married women and 33 percent of married men said they had considered divorce. Television critic Wm. Penn wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “On Beat Takeshi and Taichi Kokubun’s talk show “Nippon no Mikata“... a small "kokusai kekkon" contingent of foreigners married to Japanese...wanted to know why Japanese wives don't immediately divorce cheating husbands. Although a survey was cited showing 43.6 percent would consider divorce after he was caught cheating twice, it was emphasized economic, historical and cultural factors all play a part. For example, Meiji laws only specified punishment for cheating wives. There was no punishment for cheating husbands. Some women also explained not divorcing the cheater allowed them to take control of the marriage, make demands of the husband and put him in a weaker position in the relationship. It's power politics in action.”

Problems After Divorce in Japan

There is still a stigma attached to divorce that can lead to a lifetime of hardship. Some elite private schools reject children from single-parent homes. Many employers try to avoid hiring divorced women if they can help it. But this has changed quite a bit in recent years as divorce has become more common.

Women that get divorced or widowed and provide for their family often face economic hardship. There have been cases of women who drive imported luxury cars who go divorced and suddenly found themselves with so little money they couldn’t afford a bus ticket to get to a job interview.

Japan ranks second behind Mexico in parental abduction.

Divorce and Children in Japan

In Japan, only one parent is allowed to maintain custody after a divorce. It is not unusual for a parent without custody to have no contact with their children. On the other hand, in the United States and many European countries, parents retain joint custody over their children and share the responsibility of raising their children even after a divorce.

Under the Civil Code in Japan, parental rights are given to one member of a divorced couple, whereas it is common in Western countries for former couples to bring up their children jointly. Unlike many Asian countries, where the husband and his family get custody of the children after a divorce. in Japan the ex-wife gets the children 80 to 90 percent of the time. Japan’s tradition of sole-custody divorce typically favors mothers and results in children being cut off from their fathers, during childhood if not forever. Japanese family courts in recent years have begun issuing joint custody orders, but do not effectively enforce them. There are no legal penalties for noncompliance.

In the old days, after a divorce the ex husband's family was given custody of the children. This was done for reasons related to the male heir carrying on the family name. These days, mothers get custody of the children because many women work and can support their children and the old family name system is not as important as it once was. Prior to World War II fathers were granted sole custody of their children, After the war Gen. Douglas MacArthur reversed the law, giving the rights to mothers in divorce cases.

Japanese law usually custody to either the mother of the father — not both. Joint custody is illegal. On the divorce form there is one line for children who stay with their father and one line for those who stay with their mother. Visitation is arranged informally. In about 40 percent of cases, according to a 1997 survey, the ex-wife or ex-husband who doesn't receive custody never sees the children again. In 18 percent of cases the noncustodial parent has hardy any contact with his or her children

The parent who does not get custody has almost no rights concerning their children and often times is able to see their kids. There are no provisions in the Civil Code referring to the visitation rights of parents who does not live with the children. When visitation is allowed it is often limited to once a month.

Mothers win 90 percent of court decision concerning custody. Some ex-wives are insistent that their ex-husbands never see their children again. Even when a court decides that husband can see the children once a month the ex-wife can refuse to comply and not suffer consequences for it.

Former Prime Minister Juichiro Koizumi has three sons. The two that were born during his marriage were raised his sister Nobuko after the divorce. His wife was not allowed to see them even though she requested to see them several times. Miyamoto said that Koizumi had promised that she could see her two older sons when they were in middle school. "Koizumi is a man who keeps his promises," she said. "But on this point he did not."

Koizumi's third son, Yoshinaga Miyamoti, was born after the divorce. Before and while he was prime minister Koizumi paid child support but never visited him even though he lived less than an hour from his home. After his father was elected, Miyamoto cheered during televised political rallies, kept a picture of the prime minister on the wall of his room and said he wanted like to meet his father.

After many divorces the ex-husband continues to live in the family house on a separate floor.

Weak Efforts to Help Divorced Parents Meet Their Kids

There are no enforced visitations. Fathers are often denied visitation rights even though they pay child support. A divorce counselor told the Washington Post that children's rights are given a higher priority than parent’s rights and custody by one parent is less confusing than joint custody. In Japan "the children inherit a position as head of the household. It's not their individual identity which parents nurture, but the successor to the house."

There are cases of ex-husbands being given the right by a court of law to see their children but being denied that right by their ex-wives — and there was little the husbands could do about it. One divorced man told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Although the court recognized that I should be able to visit my son once every month, my former wife refused to let me, She comes up with excuses why I can’t see my son shortly before every appointed meeting. I haven’t seen been able to see him for nearly 1½ years.”

In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started a project this fiscal year to increase opportunities for parents to meet their children after a divorce by encouraging prefectural governments and those of 20 ordinance-designated major cities nationwide to help out. But among them, only the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to begin to offer relevant services by the end of this fiscal year. The other 66 local governments will do so later, or have no plans. Though the local governments admitted the project is necessary, they said the services cannot be provided because they have no officials with know-how about such meeting arrangements. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 10, 2012]

“Experts have said that meeting with parents after they get divorced is important for the children's growth. But in many cases, meetings by those directly involved are difficult to hold because of emotional conflicts. According to the Supreme Court, applications for parent-child meetings in 2010 numbered 7,749, an about 3.2-fold jump from 10 years ago.

“There have been many cases in which parents who have been refused permission to meet their children have taken matters into their own hands and absconded with them. Private organizations offering to arrange and oversee such meetings do exist, but there are too few of them to meet nationwide demand. Consequently, only a limited number of people can use the services of such organizations. A man in his 30s living in Hiroshima Prefecture apart from his wife and child while the couple's divorce proceedings are under way said, "As my trusting relationship with my wife has been lost, I can't even directly contact her." He said an arbitration service by a nonprofit organization cost 18,000 yen for two hours. He said, "Public assistance is necessary.”

“In response to such opinions, starting in this fiscal year, the ministry decided to subsidize part of the costs if local governments of prefectures, major cities and regional core cities implement their own parent-child meeting services. The public services cover low-income earners with children under 15, and the services are free of charge.

“However, in a survey conducted in April by The Yomiuri Shimbun on prefectural and major city governments, only the Tokyo metropolitan government replied it planned to introduce the service within this fiscal year. Forty-six of the local governments, or 69 percent, said they were still considering whether to introduce the service. Twenty, or 30 percent, replied that they had no plans to do so. On why such a service had not yet been introduced, a question for which multiple responses were permitted, 32 of the governments, or 48 percent, said they do not have officials or outside experts with expertise about such meetings, and 21 of them, or 32 percent, said they could not secure budgets for the purpose.

Forced Custody Transfers Increasing in Japan

In January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: A Supreme Court survey shows district courts ordered the forcible transfer of a child from one parent to another in 120 cases nationwide in 2010, amid a rapid increase in disputes between divorcing couples over the custody of their children. In the first survey of its kind, the court found the children were successfully transferred in 58 cases, or 48 percent of the time. In the remaining cases, the transfer failed because the parent rejected the courts "direct enforcement" order. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 10, 2012]

This kind of order involves the presence of court-appointed officers, and is usually used during financial disputes when the state enforces the rights of creditors if debtors do not abide by court rulings. These officers have the authority to transfer movable or fixed property of debtors to creditors.

Other types of rulings include "indirect enforcement," in which a court orders debtors to make cash payments to creditors until the debtors obey a court's decision. Several court cases have ruled it unconstitutional to regard children as similar to movable property such as cars. Therefore, indirect enforcement has been most commonly applied during custody disputes.For example, the Sapporo District Court ruled in 1994 that the order of direct enforcement should not be used for children, saying they "cannot be equated with property."

But during the last 10 years, direct enforcement has been used more frequently as growing numbers of court officers and judges deem it legally possible to apply the order to the transfer of children. While the number of divorces between couples with children has remained at the same level for several years, the number of family court cases over custody has increased to 1,203 in 2010, 4.5 times the figure in 2000. This is partly due to the declining birthrate.

Direct enforcement is ordered when a mother or father fails to comply with a family court order that demands they relinquish custody of their child. It falls under the Civil Execution Law and is enforced by court officers at the request of a parent.But the Civil Execution Law does not stipulate how a direct enforcement order for transferring a child should take place. Furthermore, there are no rules to deal with matters such as the age-range of children who can be transferred under a direct enforcement order, or outlining when and where the application of a court's ruling should take place. In one case, the court order was carried out while a child was at a nursery school, leading to an altercation between the child's father and court enforcement officers.

Single Mothers in Japan

Single parent households in 2000: 5.2 percent, compared to 5.1 percent in 1990 and 9 percent in the United States in 2000.

The number of single-mother households reached 1.22 million in 2003, up 28 percent from the previous survey in 1998. About three quarters of these were the result of divorce. There are few single mothers who have never been married. Less than 2 percent of births occur outside marriage. Cohabitation is also rare and single women almost never adopt.

Single mothers have a hard time in Japan. They have difficulty getting full-time company jobs because of two stigmas: one, they have children, and two, they are divorced. Most get by on part time or poorly-paying jobs and live with their parents. Some widowed mothers live their deceased husband’s family.

The average income in 2007 for single mom household was ¥2.13 million, 38 percent of the national household income average of is ¥5.64 million. A single mother with one child and an income less that $20,000 receives about $400 a month from the government. A women with an income of $20,000 and $30,000 gets $280 a month. Women over 40 often have a particularly hard time finding jobs. Elderly single women get by on pension payments from the government of about ¥120,000 a month.

Women that get divorced or widowed and provide for their family often face economic hardship. There have been cases of women who drove around imported luxury cars when they married who suddenly found themselves with so little money they couldn’t afford a bus ticket to get to a job interview after they got divorced.

Because of the shame factor, couples rarely see each other after a divorce. Sometimes single mothers have a hard time collecting child support payments from their ex-husbands. Many women tolerate affairs and visits to prostitutes by their husbands and put up with bad marriages so they can avoid divorce and the financial precariousness.

Polygamy in Japan

In 2006, Hiroshito Shibuya, 57-year-old “polygamist” who lived with 11 women in Tokyo, was arrested and admitted threatening a young woman to get her to join his the group.

Shibuya is a self-professed fortuneteller. Books on hypnosis and mind control were found in his house. His fortunetelling technique involved placing clients in a darkened room and shining a bright light in their face — a practice which many said made them feel nervous. He often told his women clients that they were haunted by evil spirits that would bring them bad luck,

Shibuya began his fortunetelling practice in 2000. Among his clients were 10 women he married 12 times. He divorced his first wife in 1999 after 25 years of marriage. On eight occasions he married one woman the same day he divorced another. One woman he divorced eight days after he married her.

Explaining why he lived with so many women, Shibuya told Daily Yomiuri, “They came to me one after another after I learned a chant in a dream that allowed me to imprint myself on my female clients...I share my love will all.” On the chant he said: “If you chant it, even unattractive men find themselves popular with women. But I can’t tell you what it is because that would take away my life.”

“I Don’t” Divorce Business

Some couples are celebrating the end of their marriages before family and friends with divorce ceremonies. The idea was pioneered in 2009 by former salesman Hiroki Terai, who opened up a “divorce mansion” in Tokyo, where for $600 couples are feted to a ceremony that has all the pomp of a wedding ceremony. The ceremony begins with couples being brought to mansion in rickshaws and ends with their wedding rings smashed under a gavel. The gavel has a frog head on it (the word “kauru” can mean both “frog” and “change”).

One man who went through the ceremony told Reuters that he blamed the failure of his marriage on himself for being away from home too much and spending too much money on expensive hobbies such as cars. “When we smashed the rings together I felt like, “Oh, this is the end of it, really, and my heart and soul felt renewed.” His wife of eight years said, “the moment I saw the smashed rings I said to myself, “yes!” That feels good.” Terai, who used to work at a temporary staffing agency, expanded his business into South Korea and began organizing so-called divorce ceremony tours in cooperation with a travel agency in March 2010. As of December 2010 a total of 54 couples had participated in the ceremonies.

Chuo University Prof. Masahiro Yamada, an expert on family sociology, told the Yomiuri Shimbun an increasing number of people see divorce not as a failure but a step toward growth. "The divorce business is beginning to be recognized overseas," he said. "Just like 'konkatsu' (activities to find a marriage partner) spread quickly and women became more open about finding a marriage partner, divorce might be considered more positively and create a certain kind of trend."

Terai has performed nearly 100 ceremonies over two years. He told the New York Times that after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami he received over 200 inquiries a month, as couples, Terai said began to “reassess their priorities.” [Source: Paige Ferrari, New York Times, September 9, 2011]

Some of the ceremonies have been conducted in restaurants or in secular wedding locations on butsumetsu: unlucky days of the month associated with Buddha’s death, when few brides dare schedule their big day. Sometimes there are 30 guests, representing each of the couples’families. Sometimes there’s a buffet. When there are slide shows of the marriage, it’s not unheard of for divorcing couples to reconcile.

“I Don’t” Divorce Ceremony

Describing an “I don’t” event held at a divorce mansion converted from a garage in Tokyo's Asakusa area, Takashi Kawamura wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “About 15 people in their 20s and 30s attended...some formally clothed and others bearing congratulatory money in envelopes with “goshugi” (“end of marriage”) written on them in large characters...The man and woman about to say "I don't" arrived in separate rickshaws.” [Source: Takashi Kawamura, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 10, 2010]

A 28-year-old woman representing the couple's friends made a speech at the beginning of the ceremony. "Honestly speaking, I've had a difficult time knowing what to say [here at the ceremony]," she said. "I'd still like to be friends with both of you even after the divorce."

“The atmosphere solemn, the soon-to-be ex-couple held a hammer together as their wedding rings were placed in front of them..."The couple's last cooperative act will now take place," said Terai... The next moment, the couple brought the hammer down and smashed the rings, signifying the end of their partnership. The ceremony concluded when the smashed rings were placed in a frog-shaped monument. The woman who had made a speech said in a somewhat bewildered tone, "[The ceremony] was sad in a different way than a funeral."

The couple married in October 2003 and has a 6-year-old son. However, different living hours became too much for the 34-year-old man, a company employee, and his 32-year-old wife, who worked at an izakaya pub. The wife found out her husband had an affair with another woman. The couple said they talked about divorcing for nearly a year. After the ceremony, the husband said with a smile, "I felt such a sense of relief smashing the rings."

The ceremonies sometimes have the opposite effect, however, with couples rethinking their decision. "About 10 percent of divorce ceremony couples decided not to split up afterward, as they were encouraged by their friends [who attended the ceremony] to stay together," Terai said.

Simplest Divorce Ceremony

Paige Ferrari wrote in the New York Times, The simplest option is a private ceremony with just one guest, held in what Terai calls his House of Divorce: an abandoned old residence with no power, no plumbing and peeling paint. “It’s a building which represents a husband and wife’s relationship — about to collapse,” Terai explained. As the rickshaws pulled up outside the building, Terai rushed inside to set up candles that provided the ceremony’s only light. He then led the couple, who have a 5-year-old son, behind a small table at the back of the room and commenced a bullet-pointed explanation of why the couple’s relationship faltered, information he gathered from separate interviews with them. [Source:Paige Ferrari, New York Times, September 9, 2011]

“Over the course of their marriage, the couple’s lifestyles began to diverge,” he began, straining to read in the dark. “They had different values, especially when a number of the husband’s hidden debts came to the surface.” Atsuko stared at the ground. “They also did not share the same taste in hobbies,” Terai continued.

He then invited the couple to offer short statements. Fumikazu (who requested that I not use his last name) spoke first, disputing none of Terai’s synopsis. He apologized for running late earlier in the evening. At first he was skeptical about the ceremony, he said, “but I see it’s a way to mark a new life.” When Atsuko took her turn, she simply expressed her hope that today represented a break from the past.

Terai motioned Atsuko’s friend to step forward, and she did, hesitantly. “I was surprised to be asked to speak,” she said, facing her friend, “but I wish you happiness in your new life.” She then quickly retreated back into the dark.

Finally, Terai brought out a large hammer with a head shaped like a frog and placed Atsuko’s wedding ring on a table. He instructed them to hold the hammer together and pound down on the band at the count of three. The first blow knocked the ring onto the ground, where Terai scoured the cement floor with the aid of a tea candle. The second attempt was a success, squashing the ring into an oblong shape. Terai showed it to Atsuko’s friend, who nodded her satisfaction.

Bowing, the couple left the House of Divorce and walked toward the nearby Sumida River, where they used to watch fireworks. Earlier in the evening, crowds lined its banks to release candle-lit lanterns into the water as a tradition of Obon, the festival to remember the souls of the dead.

Terai dropped the battered wedding band into a lantern that bore handwritten messages from the couple. Atsuko wrote: “So that our son may grow up well.” Fumikazu wrote: “Let us remain friends.” Terai lighted the candle inside the lantern and dropped it into the river with a flourish. But instead of gliding into the great beyond, it spun clumsily back and forth, tarrying in the water directly beneath the couple.”Don’t be a silly loser,” Terai groaned, leaning nearly half his body over the railing and scolding the lantern for not drifting away. For the first time all night, Atsuko started laughing. “It’s just like life,” she said, “always back and forth.”

International Divorces and Child Custody in Japan

Child custody cases in Japan are dealt with using domestic law as Japan has not yet ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a treaty that has been ratified by 81 nations, including the United States and the European Union. Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven that has not signed it.

About 300 American children are currently considered abducted in Japan by a parent or family member, according to the U.S. State Department. Some include the children of current and former U.S. servicemembers who have been stationed in Japan. As of 2009, according to Japanese sources, the number of cases in which Japanese parents took their children from a foreign country to Japan after a divorce without the consent of their the ex-partners, was 73 in the United States, 36 in Canada, 35 in France and 33 in Britain.

In September 2009, an American man, 38-year-old Christopher Savoie, was arrested for abducting his own children and trying to take them from his ex-wife Noriko Esaki Savoiea Japanese national living in Fukuoka. According to police Savoire grabbed his 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter while they were being taken to school by his former wife. The police said he took the children forcibly and drove off with them in a rented car.

The couple was divorced the previous January, with the wife taking the kids back to Japan in August without telling Savoie. An American court had granted custody of the children to the mother and specified that they live in Tennessee, where the family resided, and the children would spend a third of the year with Savoire. The court also said that if one parent took the children out of the state they had to inform the other parent in advance and get their approval. After the Japanese wife left for Japan with the kids local police issued an arrest warrant for her on suspicion of abducting the children. A Tennessee court gave the father full custody. But the order had no effect because Japan hasn't signed an international treaty governing child abduction.

Savoire was released a couple weeks after he was arrested and suspended his indictment. He returned to the United States. Legal experts concluded that events could have unfolded differently had Japan ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It stipulates that when one divorced parent takes children out of the country the remaining parent can ask the government of that nation for help getting the child back and that nation is obligated to return the child.

In May 2011 a judge awarded Christopher Savoie, US$6.1 million from his ex-wife who took their two children to Japan and never returned. It remains unclear whether Christopher Savoie will ever actually get the money on behalf of his children, 10-year-old Isaac and 8-year-old Rebecca.

There have been similar cases but with the tables turned. One Japanese woman lost her five-year-old son when her Czech husband told her in August 2009 he going to buy the child a toy was he was filling up the car with gasoline. They never returned. A day or so later her husband called and said, “We’re in Germany — Frankfurt” and hung up. The woman, a 41-year-old nurse from Yamagata, Gifu Prefecture, believed her son was taken to Prague by her husband. Her appeals for help from the Japanese and Czech governments produced little results. The Czech Republic has signed the the Hague Convention but again because Japan hasn’t there is little the governments can do to help her.

In another case a separate d Japanese woman and American man, each living in their own country’s shared custody by sending their son back and forth between Japan and the U.S. for six month stints in each country, until the husband didn’t send the boy to Japan. It took the wife a year and half, with the help of lawyer, just to track down her husband, who refused to send the by back.

Seven-Year-Old Girl Taken from Japan to Guinea

A 36-year-old woman living in the Tokyo metropolitan area spoke of her daughter who was abducted to Guinea by her former husband. "I'm so frightened to think that I'll never be able to see my daughter again," the woman said in a scarcely audible voice. In February 2011, her now 7-year-old daughter was taken from home by her former husband while the woman was out. He then took the child to his native country.

The woman thought of chasing her ex-husband to Guinea, but he had taken her passport with him. Time just passed by as she applied for a visa and waited for her passport to be reissued, she said. The woman said she occasionally talks to her daughter when her ex-husband phones her. However, the woman said she is becoming anxious as more time passes. "I'm afraid the longer it takes, the less likely I'll be able to get my daughter back as she'll be accustomed to a new environment, and begin to speak the local language," the woman said.

The woman said she has consulted with a lawyer, but her ex-husband may have already moved to another country with her daughter. The woman said she no longer knows where her daughter is now. "What an individual can do in these cases is limited. If the government joins the Hague Convention, I believe it will be possible to solve similar cases more quickly," the woman said.

Hague Convention and Japan

Japan has not ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It stipulates that when one divorced parent takes children out of the country the remaining parent can ask the government of that nation for help getting the child back and that nation is obligated to return the child.

In the May 2011, the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan decided that Japan should participate in the Hague Convention. The decision was conveyed by Kan to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight countries in Deauville, France.

The formal name of the treaty is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It is a multinational treaty designed to provide an expeditious method to return children abducted from one participating nation to another. It is also designed to prevent one parent from removing children from the country where they habitually reside without the consent of the other parent after the marriage collapses. The convention was adopted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1980 and enforced in 1983. As of July 2011, 85 states are parties to the convention, but few Asian countries have joined.

Under the convention, a child under 16 years old should be returned to its place of habitual residence if one of its parents takes the child out of that country without the consent of the other parent after their marriage collapses. If the parent who remained in the nation of habitual residence demands the return of the child, that child should, in principle, be returned. The convention is based on the idea that it would serve the best interests of the children if they remained in the nation of habitual residence and courts in that nation decide how the children should be raised.

Pressure on Japan to Join the Hague Convention

In September 2010, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution for Japan immediately to make legal reforms to address the problem of international custody battles and abductions of children from failed marriages of Japanese-American couples. The solution also urges Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In January 2011, the Japanese government set up a council to mull over the idea of joining the Hague convention. In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Japan to join the convention.

Keiko Kosaka wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “There also have been cases of non-Japanese husbands taking their children out of Japan without their Japanese wives' consent. By joining the convention, it would be easier for Japan to ask for the children's return from signatory countries abroad. It also would help keep Japanese nationals from being prevented from returning to Japan with their children, on the grounds that Japan has not signed the convention.” [Source: Keiko Kosaka , Yomiuri Shimbun, February 28, 2011]

“According to the Foreign Ministry, there were 1,240 cases in which signatory nations asked for children to be returned to their habitual countries of residences in 2003. Of the 520 cases not ultimately settled by the involved parents, 70 percent saw the local courts order that the children be returned to their habitual country of residence and 30 percent saw the return requests denied. Primary reasons for courts to refuse to return children include domestic violence, child abuse and the children's own preferences.” "Among signatory countries, discrepancies exist in the way the convention is applied," said a Foreign Ministry official.

If Japan joined the convention, a Japanese court would judge whether children brought to Japan should be returned to their country of habitual residence. Therefore, it is necessary for concerned ministries to coordinate views on possible criteria for assessing such cases and to present specific measures to deal with the issue. Besides the issue of joining the convention, the difference in parental rights between Japan and Western countries also will be called into question. Under the Civil Code in Japan, parental rights are given to one member of a divorced couple, whereas it is common in Western countries for former couples to bring up their children jointly.

Arguments for Not Joining the Hague Convention

“On the other hand,” Kosaka wrote, “organizations supporting Japanese who have returned from abroad to avoid domestic violence from former husbands are voicing apprehension about Japan potentially joining the convention. A Japanese woman who returned with her child three years ago said, "Don't take away the last recourse of protection for myself and my child, a means I took as I had no other options to deal with my [violent] ex-husband." [Source: Keiko Kosaka , Yomiuri Shimbun, February 28, 2011]

“Under the Hague convention, judicial and administrative authorities are not bound to return children to their country of habitual residence if "there is a grave risk that their return would expose children to physical or psychological harm." Yet the convention does not specifically characterize domestic violence as an exceptional case.”

Lawyer Kensuke Onuki opposes Japan joining the convention, told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "The range of exceptional cases [where the state can refuse a child's return] is quite limited, and the reasons for abducting children and issues pertaining to their welfare are not subject to examination. As a result, there have been cases where the children's living environments deteriorated because they were returned to the original country of residence."

Article 13 of the Hague Convention states, “If there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation, then the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child.” If spouses prove in court that abuses have occurred, judges usually don’t rule against them.

Japan Takes Big Step toward Hague Convention

In January 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The government took a big step toward joining the Hague Convention on international child abductions by drafting an outline for related domestic legislation. To minimize potential conflicts, the outline stipulates cases in which a parent who has taken his or her child to Japan will be allowed to refuse a former spouse's request to hand over the child. [Source: Eita Hagiwara, Makoto Inagaki and Yoshiko Kosaka, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 25, 2012]

However, there are various issues the government needs to work out before joining the Hague Convention, such as the impact on children who are transferred from one parent to another, and how to handle cases in which a parent has escaped from an abusive former spouse. According to the outline compiled by a subcommittee of the government's Legislative Council, a parent can refuse a former spouse's request to relinquish custody in cases where the spouse was abusive to either the parent or child, or was negligent.

The subcommittee also listed specific circumstances in which parents can refuse custody transfer requests--such as a spouse's alcohol or drug addiction. However, it will be difficult for people repatriating to Japan after escaping an abusive spouse to collect sufficient evidence to prove the abuse, which took place overseas, in court.

The Hague Convention states that when a parent requests a former spouse to return their children, it is up to judicial and administrative bodies in the country where the child currently resides to decide whether the request is appropriate. However, judgement criteria vary across countries that have joined the convention.

As of December 2011, the Foreign Ministry reported it had received complaints through official diplomatic channels on 89 child abduction cases from the United States, 39 cases from Britain, 38 cases from Canada and 32 cases from France.

Japanese Mother Arrested for Taking Her Child to Japan

Emiko Inoue, a 43-year-old Japanese woman from Hyogo Province charged with unlawfully taking her daughter to Japan in 2008 in violation of U.S. custody orders, was arrested in Hawaii in April 2011 and extradited to Milwaukee where she put in prison. Inoue, 43, pleaded no-contest in November 2011 to felony child custody interference by a parent for fleeing America with her daughter in 2008 rather than face a divorce and custody battle with her then husband, Moises Garcia. [Source: Charlie Reed, Stars and Stripes, December 8, 2011]

Charlie Reed wrote in Stars and Stripes in December 2011, “Inoue was given a choice by Milwaukee prosecutors just before Thanksgiving: Return your daughter to the U.S. in 30 days, or risk spending the next 25 years in prison. For now, she sits in a county jail cell waiting for her daughter to return from her home in Japan...And while Inoue is not the first Japanese person to abscond with a child to Japan, she is the first to be prosecuted for it in the U.S. according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2008 Inoue took Karina, 6 at the time, to her native Japan After three years and only one visit with Karina in Japan, Garcia caught a break. In April, his ex-wife flew from Japan to Hawaii to renew her U.S. green card, apparently unaware that her U.S. immigration file had been flagged because of a Wisconsin arrest warrant issued a few months earlier. Inoue was arrested in Honolulu and extradited to Milwaukee, a city she once called her home, where Karina was born and she and Garcia were married in 2002.

Story Behind the Japanese Mother Arrested for Taking Her Child to Japan

The couple met in Norway in 1998 while both were studying abroad. Garcia, a native of Nicaragua, was pursuing medicine. Inoue, from Japan, was studying the Norwegian language. Garcia was about to begin a medical fellowship in Japan later that year. By the time Garcia was wrapping up his fellowship and accepting a residency program in Milwaukee, Inoue was pregnant. The couple decided to start a life together in America. “It was difficult,” said the physician, who practices and lives in Fox Point, Wisc., just outside Milwaukee. “But we had many good moments.”

Even after the couple began having marital problems, Garcia said he never thought Inoue would run away with their daughter. But she did -- the day after Garcia filed for divorce in February 2008, and before the family courts could flag her and her daughter’s passports as possible flight risks.

Her decision to circumvent U.S. family court set in motion an unprecedented criminal case, making her the first Japanese citizen ever to be arrested in the U.S. for child custody interference. It’s a felony in most states, but not considered a crime in Japan. Garcia gained full custody of Karina shortly after Inoue left the country in 2008. Eventually, he was granted full custody by a Japanese court, although it reversed that decision in March of this year, saying it was in the best interest of the child to remain in Japan since she was already living here.

Garcia convinced the Milwaukee prosecutor’s office that although he had legal custody in both countries, there was no way for him to get his daughter back or even get regular visitation The Milwaukee police department issued a warrant for Inoue’s arrest in February 2011, although Japan has never agreed to extradite any of its citizens to face felony parental child abduction charges in the U.S.

Inoue was put in the Milwaukee County jail after arriving from Hawaii. Her attorney in Wisconsin, Bridget Boyle-Saxton, would not comment on why Inoue chose to leave Wisconsin so quickly after Garcia filed for divorce. It is unclear whether Inoue knew of the custody protections in Japan before she took Karina there. In any case, instead of going to trial and risking 25 years in prison if convicted of two charges related to her leaving the States with Karina, she decided to plead no-contest to parental custody interference and was told that if her daughter was returned to the United States she would be set free.

Japanese Mother Set Free After Daughter Returned to the U.S.

In late December 2011, Inoue returned her nine-year-old daughter Karina to the girl's 39-year-old Nicaraguan father and was released from police custody in the United States. The girl had been staying at the home of the woman's parents in Hyogo prefecture. According to lawyers for Inoue and Garcia, Karina left Japan with her grandmother and was handed over to Garcia at a U.S. airport. The girl said at first that she wanted to live in Japan. However, when she was told about the plea bargain, she understood her return to the United States would "save her mother," the lawyers said. Inoue will continue to live in the United States and will have visitation rights, according to the lawyers. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 25, 2011]

Inoue was allowed to remain in the U.S. instead of being deported for having a felony conviction. And she can travel outside of the country with permission from the court, but likely not with her daughter, Boyle-Saxton said.

Inoue’s attorney in Osaka, Haruki Maeda, told Stars and Stripes. Inoue only “very reluctantly” agreed to the deal, because her daughter wishes to remain in Japan, Maeda said. “Under the plea bargain made at a U.S. court this time, the child will be sent back to her father, who is now remarried. Separating her from her own mother and (forcing) her to live with her father and stepmother, will this lead to the well-being of the child?”

When Karina turns 12, she can tell a U.S. judge where she wants to live, Boyle-Saxton said. Until then, she is considered not intellectually competent by the court to make a decision. Garcia, 39, has arranged for a Japanese tutor at the school Karina will attend and for psychological counseling to help her cope with the transition.

Program for Reuniting Divorced Parents with Their Kids Rarely Used

"We had a good time," a 32-year-old mother after meeting her 6-year-old daughter for the first time in four months, told The Yomiuri Shimbun. The mother, who is estranged from the girl's father, lives apart from her daughter.The meeting was arranged and supervised by the Tokyo metropolitan government and lasted about an hour. The two enjoyed reading together and playing and tickling each other. "I wanted to see my daughter face-to-face to comfort her and show her how much I love her," the mother said. It was difficult for the mother to directly contact her husband, with whom she is discussing divorce. "Without the [government's] mediation, I don't think I'd have been able to see my daughter," she said. The father, for his part, was comfortable with the arrangement, saying: "I knew my daughter would be safe because it's the metropolitan government's program. I also appreciate the service because it is free." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 20, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “However, only a few people have used the government's intermediary program aimed at helping divorced parents meet their children living with the other parent because the program is only available to low-income earners. Users and experts are calling for the program's income ceiling to be eased to make it available to more people. More and more parents, who live away from their children, are looking to meet them. Although the revised Civil Code, which encourages noncustodial parents to see their children, came into force in April, it is not easy for parents who have emotional issues over their divorce to contact the other parent to arrange meetings.

The number of requests for the family court to mediate meetings between divorced parents and their separated children more than tripled in the past decade, totaling 8,714 cases last year. There are private organizations that arrange and oversee meetings between separated parents and children. But as it costs about 10,000 yen per meeting, not everyone can afford such services. The government offered financial support and urged local governments to launch programs to support such meetings, to which the Tokyo metropolitan government responded.

In the Tokyo program, an employee entrusted by the metropolitan government arranges a time and place for a meeting between a separated parent and their children and attends the meeting. There were 240 inquiries between May, when the program launched, and October, according to an official of the Tokyo metropolitan government. Among them, 130 cases requested meetings. The Tokyo metropolitan government, however, accepted just seven requests, of which only three meetings involving two families took place.

One major reason for the small number of program users has been the red tape involved to receive the support. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry sets conditions for receiving the service, including; both parents' income must be as low as that of those receiving child-rearing allowance--less than 2.68 million yen for a family of two children--and both parents must agree to the meeting in advance.

The program is limited to Tokyo. In a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun in April in which 66 local governments not conducting the program were asked the reason for not doing so, 32, or 48 percent, said they did "not have officials or outside experts with the required know-how." Additionally, 21 governments, or 32 percent, said they are "unable to secure funds" for the program.

Image Sources: 1) Japan Zone 2) exorsyst

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2014

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