Hague pact ‘too late’ for divorcee

by Saori Miyagawa

Kyodo

For one Japanese mother long separated from her children after the failure of an international marriage, the Diet’s expected ratification of an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes arouses mixed feelings.

“Personally, it’s too late for me, but I feel we’ve come this far at last because the problem is not limited to me,” Hiroko Suzuki, 44, said in a recent interview.

Japan is expected to accede to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction by the end of this year after completing all domestic procedures. The pact sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

For Suzuki, though, who has been separated from her two daughters in the United States for a decade as a result of Japan’s nonratification of the treaty, the move comes too late.

Suzuki met a South Korean man when she was a flight attendant. They got married in 1996 and she gave birth to two girls. They settled in the southern United States, but their relationship eventually soured, Suzuki said.

In summer 2003, when the children were 5 and 3, the couple split and, against her wishes, she left the family home, she said.

Although she tried to meet her daughters, her husband refused her request and moved to another city in the United States with the girls, she said.

“I desperately wanted to get access to my daughters, but I had neither knowledge nor support,” Suzuki said.

The couple eventually divorced as a result of a lawsuit in the United States that started in 2007. The U.S. court gave the husband sole custody of the daughters because he had been raising them until then, despite joint custody being the norm in the U.S.

Suzuki said she believes the court ruling was meant to prevent her from trying to take the girls to Japan.

After the court ruling she has met her daughters in the United States and talked to them via an Internet telephone service but is banned from staying with them overnight or meeting them in Japan.

She said her daughters began to grow distant from her as they grew into adolescence. Gifts sent to them have been occasionally returned to her.

Once Japan accedes to the child custody treaty, Suzuki believes her daughters will be able to come to Japan to see her.

“But I’m afraid they wouldn’t want to visit Japan because they were raised listening to his (ex-husband’s) one-sided opinions about me.”

Nevertheless, Suzuki has not given up hope that her daughters will understand her in the future.

Suzuki said she spoke under her real name because “I believe they will find my name on the Internet someday in the future and recognize my thoughts and love for them.”