Every Child

Has Two Parents



what truly happened to Christopher Savoie



Christopher Savoie is an American father (was) detained in a Japanese jail for attempting to recover his children, Isaac, age 8, and Rebecca, age 6, following their abduction from their home near Nashville, Tennessee.

Here is his story.

Christopher and Noriko Savoie have two beautiful children together - Isaac Savoie, age 8, and Rebecca May Savoie, age 6.

Chris and Noriko raised Isaac and Rebecca as husband and wife until 2007, in Japan, at which time they decided to separate. Chris needed to move back to the States for work and Noriko followed him with the children, knowing that they would not live together.

Before she left Japan, Noriko spoke at length to a social worker in Tennessee about the divorce law in Tennessee and the financial arrangements that she could expect. They discussed the fact that Noriko planned to come with the children to live in the United States. Noriko stated that she preferred to get the divorce in America and she had many questions about the divorce process. She stated that she would remain in the United States so that both she and Chris could participate in raising Isaac and Rebecca.

Noriko promptly hired a divorce lawyer in Tennessee and divorce proceedings were promptly commenced there.

After extensive mediation in Tennessee, or about December 6, 2008, Chris and Noriko signed a Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA) and a 9-page "Permanent Parenting Plan Order."

These documents were the product of extensive negotiations and due deliberation. They provided that, among other things:

a) Noriko would receive assets of nearly $800,000, representing most of Chris's liquid assets.

b) Noriko would receive substantial monthly payments for alimony and for child support.

c) In return, Noriko would remain in Tennessee with the children, returning to Japan for a 6-week summer vacation each year.

d) Chris and Noriko would share parenting and would jointly decide important issues concerning the children.

e) The children would reside primarily with Noriko in Tennessee and Chris would spend 120 days with the children each year.

The settlement was approved by the court and a final judgment of divorce was entered on January 6, 2009.

Chris paid the money promptly. Once that was accomplished, however, Noriko repeatedly indicated that she was considering returning to Japan with the children.

Chris took these threats extremely seriously. He knew that Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction and is a renowned haven for international parental child abduction, so that he would have no recourse were the mother to keep the children in Japan. Accordinglyhe filed a motion with the Tennessee court, and obtained a temporary restraining order precluding Noriko from taking the children to Japan. Noriko promptly demanded a hearing on whether the restraining order was appropriate.

The trial was held on March 30, 2009. Several extracts from the sworn testimony are posted below on this page.

The judge ruled that he would allow Noriko to take the children’s passports and to go to Japan for six weeks. He relied on her sworn promises not to keep the children in Japan.

The judge stated: "This Court fully recognizes Father's concerns regarding Japanese law in the protection of his rights. However, Mother has clearly testified that she intends to remain in Franklin, Tennessee with the children."

The judge continued: "The Restraining Order should be dissolved. Mother will be allowed to take the children to Japan for the six week summer vacation period. . .Mother will return with the children to Tennessee."

Chris immediately filed a motion to vacate the court's decision. That request was denied.

The mother took the children to Japan for the summer. While there, unbeknownst to Chris, she enrolled the children in Japanese schools and made other arrangements for a permanent relocation.

At the end of the summer, the mother returned to Tennessee with the children. Chris and Amy (his new wife) took the kids for a week’s vacation. During this time Noriko secretly packed her and the children’s belongings and according to the local police she transferred to Japan all of the remaining money in her U.S. bank accounts.

When the children were returned to Noriko, she assured Chris that they would be going to the school in Franklin in which they were registered, but shortly thereafter, Chris received a call; the children had never arrived at school.

Chris immediately feared the worst. He telephoned the mother, but could not reach her. Finally, he reached her parents in Japan. Her father said, "Don't worry. The children are fine." Chris asked, "How do you know?" "Because," the grandfather explained, "They are here with us." Chris dropped to his knees in utter despair.

Chris promptly advised the Tennessee court that the mother had abducted the children, as he had feared all along. The court immediately awarded Chris sole custody of Isaac and Rebecca on August 17.

Chris was fully aware, however, that this order has no effect in Japan.

Desperate to see his children again, Chris took matters into his own hands, and on the morning of Monday, September 28, 2009, he reunited with Isaac and Rebecca while on their way to school in Yanagawa, Japan.

He proceeded directly to the United States consulate, but was apprehended by the Japanese police, placed under arrest, and booked into the local jail - where he remains, facing up to five years in jail.

So Noriko has succeeded. She has the money. She has the children. And her children’s father is locked in a Japanese jail.

AT TRIAL: MARCH 30, 2009

THE COURT: And the only thing that's been introduced today that causes me any concern at all is this notion that "it's hard to watch the kids become American and losing Japanese identity." The Court has no doubt that that's hard, but the Court has absolutely no doubt that that's what Ms . Savoie bargained for either, period, end of story.

So while it may be hard for her to watch her children lose Japanese identity, that's part of what she bargained for; to stay here, raise her children in this country, afford Dr. Savoie an opportunity to parent with the children, and then have the opportunity to visit under the terms of the parenting plan one time a year. Now, that's where we are.

The fact that she made this statement doesn't mean in my mind that she's going to violate the terms of the court order, take the children to Japan, and not return. It's an expression of her feelings.

It may be hard, and I have no doubt that it is, but the fact is that that's where we are, and that's what was bargained for throughout this case, and that's what's contemplated by the terms of the marital dissolution agreement and the parenting plan that are incorporated into the final decree; that you will live here, the children will be here, that their father will have an opportunity to see them on the schedule set forth in the parenting plan, and that you all have the resources of the two parenting coordinators to help you resolve issues under the parenting plan.

Now, the Court is very sensitive to Dr. Savoie's concerns that Ms. Savoie may violate the terms of the Court order, move to Japan, take the children, and he would have limited ability to enforce the terms of the Court order under Japanese law.

And maybe this is highlighting why the Court shouldn't necessarily try cases that it was a mediator -- because I bring to this case a huge bank of knowledge regarding the background of both of these parties : All of the circumstances relating to their marriage; the separation; the decision of Ms. Savoie to move here in June of 2007, as I recall; her being served with the papers, as I recall, the day after she came here; she came here knowing, in fact, that her husband wanted the divorce; Dr. Savoie's concerns that once she had money, that he -- she would then have the ability to support herself in Japan, pursue a life in Japan.

And then, of course, all of the legal research that was done, including the "expert opinion" from the legal scholar in the northeast regarding Japanese law, and the failure of Japan to sign on to the Hague Convention, and the difficulty that parents have if children are taken to Japan in getting any kind of visitation rights. And there was a Canadian case, as I recall, that was also brought to the attention of the mediator at that point in time.

So maybe I have so much knowledge that I shouldn't be trying this case, but you all agreed for me to do it, and I can't just erase all that background of knowledge.

You know, at the end of the day, Dr. Savoie agreed to these terms, Ms. Savoie agreed to these terms, and the Court--or at that time the mediator-did not expect that this would be smooth, I didn't expect it would be free of conflict or difficulty, but the bottom line is that we have an agreement, and the agreement were in your name, is that correct?

DR. SAVOIE: That's correct.

Q: And now you have transferred those assets to her name?

A: Yes.


Q. And why can't you take the TOEFL Test?

A Because I received permanent residency recently.

Q. So now you're an American and you're not a foreigner ; is that correct?

A. Correct.


A. First of all, I have never thought about taking children away from their father, never.

Q. Well, let me ask you this -- and I'll ask the questions, if you would -- do you have plans to take your children and move to Japan?

A. No, I don't.

Q. And are your plans to take the children for a vacation and return home?

A. Return home means --

Q. To Tennessee.

A. Yes.

Q. Have you looked for a house to purchase in Tennessee?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Have you selected a neighborhood?

A. Well, I want to live somewhere Sunset Elementary School District or Cambridge (ph.) Elementary School District.

Q. Now, you received a large portion of money as a part of the final decree ; is that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. And where is that money?

A . It's in bank.

Q. In America?

A . Yes, Bank of America and SunTrust.

Q . Have you put any money in Japan?

A. No, I haven't.


THE COURT: The only question I really want to know is what is the total amount of assets that she has in CD’s, money markey accounts, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, securities; that’s all.

MS. STORY: I think it’s about $800,000, but that’s what I was asking.

THE WITNESS (NORIKO): No actually six – after paying attorney’s fees, I only have – not only, but I have $680 – about.

BY MS STORY: Q. And then you are now in charge of the children’s 529 accounts that total maybe – I don’t remember -- $60,000?

NORIKO: They have dropped 30%, so I’m not sure either, but yes, I have.


THE COURT: It's the Court's judgment that when the parties reached their agreement, they did so with, one, Ms. Savoie making a commitment that she was going to stay here and raise her children here, and Dr. Savoie understanding that nothing is free of risk; that every circumstance in life carries with it some risk, and that this was the very best he could do under the circumstances.

THE COURT: At the same time, the Court would -- and, of course, then I was the mediator, but I was very, very sensitive to Dr . Savoie's overriding concern that he have the opportunity to pursue a relationship with his children. And the only way he would have that opportunity is if they are raised in proximity to him where he can see them on a regular basis; specifically here in Williamson County.

THE COURT: And she clearly understood that when she was coming to the United States, she wasn't coming here to reconcile. And it was clear as it could be in mediation that she came here knowing that her husband was involved with another woman, and she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce.

THE COURT: And the final decree makes it clear that she can go to Japan and take the children and be gone for six weeks this summer. And the Court's going to make sure that that happens. The issue is should there be something more done to ensure her return. And I still believe today as we sit here, that she's operating in good faith.

THE COURT: But notwithstanding that e-mail, the Court still believes, as I did when we did the mediation, that when she settled this agreement -- excuse me -- when she settled this case, she settled it knowing that she would stay here and raise her children here; she made that commitment.


About the Authors

Brad Andrews

New York, New York, United States

Bradley H. Andrews is a New York-based international family lawyer.



The information on this website concerns a matter of public interest, and is provided for educational and informational purposes only in order to raise public awareness of issues concerning left-behind parents. Unless otherwise indicated, the writers and translators of this website are not lawyers nor professional translators, so be sure to confirm anything important with your own lawyer.

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