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Interstate child custody arrangements can be challenging to both agree on as well as to carry out, but when parents live in different countries the entire game changes. And, as the Savoie family of Tennessee has experienced, when the other country is Japan there may be surprisingly little recourse in enforcing a U.S. custody decision.
Christopher Savoie and his wife Noriko married in Tennessee and had two children together. They divorced in January and his Japanese ex-wife was granted primary custody while Christopher Savoie was granted limited custody. However, eight months after the divorce, Noriko left for Japan indefinitely-- with the children in tow. Christopher subsequently petitioned for and was granted full custody and an arrest warrant was issued for his ex-wife. Since Japanese law does not recognize foreign custody orders, Christopher Savoie travelled to Japan and picked up the children as they walked to school and was subsequently arrested for abduction and jailed.
The Japanese government refuses to enforce the U.S. custody agreement.
There is no shared custody in Japan. According to Japanese law, the mother customarily receives full custody and the father is essentially cut from the child's life.
Japan has not signed the Hague Convention
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of 1980 has been signed by 81 countries, but not by Japan. The treaty contains specific provisions that apply to international child custody disputes. The treaty prevents a parent from attempting to sidestep a custody order or avoid a custody hearing by absconding to another country with the children.
Japan's non-recognition of foreign custody decisions and non-punishment for international child abduction by parents has been under increasing scrutiny. Christopher Savoie's attorney and family are appealing for diplomatic pressure on Japan to resolve this case.