The Noda administration on March 9 submitted a bill related to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Abduction to the Diet. Once Japan joins the convention, Japanese married or formerly married to foreigners and living abroad must keep in mind that the often-employed method of removing their children from their country of habitual residence and bringing them to Japan once their marriage has ended will not work any more.

The government must enlighten Japanese, especially women, about the convention. It also must make preparations at its diplomatic missions abroad to provide assistance to Japanese who are involved in child custody disputes.

Under the bill, if a Japanese parent removes his or her child under the age of 16 from the child’s country of habitual residence and the left-behind parent requests the child’s return, a Japanese family court, either in Tokyo or Osaka, will decide whether the child should be returned after paying due consideration to the opinion of the child.

If the court accepts the left-behind parent’s request and the abductor parent does not return the child by the deadline, the court will order the abductor parent to pay a steep fine with the expectation that this will result in the return of the child. If the abductor parent eventually refuses to return the child, a court-appointed official will remove the child.

The court can turn down the left-behind parent’s request in the following cases: if a year or more has passed since the child’s removal and the child has become used to the new environment; if it is clear that the child is in danger of suffering serious physical or psychological abuse if he or she is returned to the left-behind parent; if it is determined that the left-behind parent in the past had not taken good care of the child or if the child is of a certain age and does not want to be returned to the left-behind parent.

Japanese consulates and embassies will play important roles in assisting Japanese parents. They must fully inform them in advance about the details of the Hague Convention. In particular, they must advise parents to keep materials that could serve as evidence in cases in which they have suffered abuse at the hands of their foreign spouse, such as medical records and records of consultations with the police. If necessary, they should provide introductions to legal and social welfare services and even shelter them if necessary.

Equally critical, Japanese parents must follow the laws of the countries in which they and or their children are residing to avoid getting involved in highly damaging child custody disputes.

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