Every Child

Has Two Parents


US State Department evidence about family law problems in Japan


When in court outside of Japan, if the judge has not encountered a case concerning Japanese parental abductions or Japanese family law before, they may find the situation hard to believe.  You may realize this when you hear them say how reluctant they are to require supervised visitation or to restrict travel to Japan.  (Your own lawyer may even find this hard to believe, but in that case, you should consider finding a new one with experience in Japan related cases.)  In this case, one of your biggest challenges will be to educate the judge on issues such as the following.

  1. You could absolutely lose not only custody of your child, but lose all contact with your child should he or she be taken to Japan. 

  2. Japanese family courts are biased in their decisions involving a foreign parent vs. a Japanese parent. Not only do they almost never recognize foreign court orders concerning child custody, visitation and other matters decided outside of Japan, they will assume jurisdiction and issue their own contradictory orders based on a new post-abduction status-quo in Japan.

  3. Japanese family courts cannot even enforce their own orders, much less the occasional foreign court order that they may recognize.

Although there are many other family law problems in Japanese law and courts, these issues directly challenge the authority of the court you are in.  Thus they are important arguments if you are asking for supervised visitation, trying to prevent a Japanese parent from getting custody of your child, trying to obtain travel restraining orders, asking for denial of a request to relocate with your child to Japan, or trying to initiate other preventative legal measures against a Japanese parent.

According to many left-behind American parents, the US State Department has historically been reluctant to get involved in the politically sensitive issue of international kidnapping to Japan, or in the related issue of testifying to the problems with Japanese family law in domestic US court battles for custody and visitation involving a Japanese parent.  But since late 2005, there have been some indications that may signal a change in the attitude of the US State Department, to get tough on Japan.  We also believe that other US government agencies may be "getting tough" on the problem, since it has been reported that the US State Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies were involved in the August 2006 rescue from Japan of Christopher Gulbraa.

This page documents evidence from the US State Department which may be useable in a US or other court of law to help you obtain supervised visitation, travel restraining orders, denial of a request to relocate, or other related court orders against a Japanese parent.

Web Based Evidence

The US State Department has several unambiguous statements on their website about the problems.  Although the following information is clear and authoritative, web pages are not always admitted as evidence in a court of law. (Of course this depends on your jurisdiction, so be sure to consult with your lawyer.)  Despite this, there are two ways you may be able to get the above information admitted as evidence anyways.  First, you can contact the US State Department Office of Children's Issues and ask for physical copies of the following documents.  A formally printed pamphlet exists, but may be out of print.  In that case, a copy printed on State Department letterhead paper along with a signed letter or affidavit attesting to the facts may also be admissible. 

A second way is to show this information to the custody evaluator or to other experts involved in your case, such as a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) who will later present evidence to the judge.  After this expert reads this and other information on the Japan CRN website, he or she can easily contact the Office of Children's Issues of the US State Department, the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) or other governmental office of children's issues in another country to confirm it. If your country has signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, they could call the Central Authority for that treaty.  The expert can then use this information in their testimony or in the evidence that they submit to the judge.  The expert may even be able to submit web pages themselves.

The US State Department makes the following statements on its web page titled, "International Parental Abduction - Japan" (cached copy). [Bold emphasis added.]

"However, compliance with Family Court rulings is essentially voluntary, which renders any ruling unenforceable unless both parents agree."

"The Civil Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Justice states that, in general, redress in child custody cases is sought through habeas corpus proceedings in the court.  There is no preferential treatment based on nationality or gender.  Although visitation rights for non-custodial parents are not expressly stipulated in the Japanese Civil Code, court judgments often provide visitation rights for non-custodial parents."  [Webmaster Note: This is the claim by the Civil Affairs Bureau - the next paragraph describes reality.]

"In practical terms, however, in cases of international parental child abduction, foreign parents are greatly disadvantaged in Japanese courts, both in terms of obtaining the return of children to the United States, and in achieving any kind of enforceable visitation rights in Japan.  The Department of State is not aware of any case in which a child taken from the United States by one parent has been ordered returned to the United States by Japanese courts, even when the left-behind parent has a United States custody decree. In the past, Japanese police have been reluctant to get involved in custody disputes or to enforce custody decrees issued by Japanese courts."

"IMPORTANT NOTE: In view of the difficulties involved in seeking the return of children from Japan to the United States, it is of the greatest importance that all appropriate preventive legal measures be taken in the United States if there is a possibility that a child may be abducted to Japan."

The following is also found in the US State Department's Consular Information Sheet for Japan (cached copy):

CHILDREN’S ISSUES:  For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website.  Japan is not a Hague Convention signatory, and U.S. court custody decisions are not enforceable in Japan.  Almost all children born to a Japanese parent since the 1980's, are Japanese citizens, and may travel on Japanese passports issued in the U.S. even if the left-behind parent in the U.S. does not agree to the issuance of a U.S. passport.  The Embassy and our Consulates do not have access to Japanese Immigration records and cannot confirm that a child has entered or departed Japan.  The Japanese government will not refuse entry to one of its citizens, even if that citizen is a dual-national child subject to a U.S. court-based custody decision.  The Embassy and our Consulates cannot serve process, appear in court on your behalf or carry out U.S.-based arrest warrants.  Please be aware you may be subject to arrest on kidnapping charges if you attempt to re-abduct your child from Japan.

Resources for Judges on International Parental Child Abduction - Although not Japan specific, this US State Department website contains a lot of materials that are useful for educating judges about the overall problem of international parental abduction and identifying risky situations and personality types likely to abduct a child.

Letter to Left Behind American Parents

In February 2006, the US State Department sent a written letter to left-behind parents, stating that Japanese "courts have no power to enforce child support, visitation, or custody rulings and agreements."   This letter, on State Department letterhead stationary, and signed by a government employee of the Office of Children's Issues could be useful evidence since it also testifies to attitudes within the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

If a judge needs verification, you should first contact the State Department author of this letter.  If that person is unwilling to authenticate it, contact the webmaster of www.crnjapan.com who will put you in touch with one of several parents who received this letter.  They are sympathetic with your attempt to protect your child from being abducted to Japan and may submit an affidavit of authenticity of this letter. The contents of the letter are as follows and a scan of the original letter is also available in PDF format.



2201 C Street, NW, SA-29, 4th Floor, Washington, D.D. 20520-2818
FAX NO (202) 736-9133 TEL. NO. (202) 736-9130
Home page: http://travel.state.gov

February 24, 2006

Dear <left behind parent>

I am writing to update you on recent activity involving Japan and the actions that have been taken to help improve U.S. relations with Japan with regards to international parental child abduction. I hope the summary provided will be helpful to you.

In early December, Maura Harty, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs traveled to Tokyo on her first ever trip to Japan. Among a number of events arranged by the Embassy, she took part in two events specifically organized to highlight our concern with the Japanese Government over their attitude toward International Parental Child Abduction, and raised child abductions during a third meeting. Mary Sue Conaway, Chief of the Children's Issues Abduction Unit, accompanied Assistant Secretary Harty to both abduction-focused events.

On Friday, December 3, Ambassador Harty met with Ichiro Komatsu, Director General of the International Legal Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). She emphasized the priority the United States places on responding to international parental abductions, Congressional interest and our belief that the Japanese response was a leadership issue. She framed her arguments in the context of an increasing number of international marriages and the attendant change in perspective on child custody issues when those marriages dissolve. Ambassador Harty did not raise any case in particular, but did note that we have a large number of parents who have no access to their children, and that that situation was not acceptable.

The Director General gave the expected responses, none of which indicated a willingness to be forward leaning and helpful. He pointed out that the Diet would have to agree to the Convention and that from a sociological and political point of view there is no Japanese constituency for such a move. He added some "personal" thoughts suggesting that abductions affected mostly military families, a contention the Consul General refuted. Director General Komatsu also suggested that the Japanese legal system is open to non-Japanese. While this is true, we countered that the courts have no power to enforce child support, visitation, or custody rulings and agreements. Therefore, this was not a useful recourse.

In the end, Ambassador Harty stressed that acceding to the Hague Convention was a leadership issue. It would require leadership from the top. She also reminded the Director General that one could tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members - its children. She also suggested that, as an interim step, the MFA should assist parents who seek meaningful access to their children. The Director General acknowledged Japan's obligation to facilitate access as provided for under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and the U.S.-Japanese Bilateral Consular Convention. He agreed to use the MFA's good offices to try to arrange access in individual cases, but that the MFA could not force a parent to accept a visit or return a child.

The Tokyo Administrative and Consular Corps (TACC) hosted a Saturday afternoon conference at the Canadian Embassy on December 4 [2005]. Ambassador Harty spoke during the opening ceremony and participated in the closing panel. All the speakers voiced the need for an improvement in the Japanese response to parental child abductions while acknowledging the difficulties Japanese culture posed. More than twenty embassies participated in the conference. All are dedicated to a concerted effort to keep parental child abductions before the Japanese Government. We expect to work closely with our colleagues from these embassies as we press Japanese officials to step up a leadership position on abductions.

Please know that we routinely raise the issue of parental child abductions with the Japanese.  Since the Ambassador's December visit, we have had success in gaining access to two children through the assistance of the MFA. We plan on continuing to exert pressure on the MFA to comply with Vienna Consular Convention obligations.

Should you have any questions about your case or anything you would like to discuss, please  feel free to contact me. My direct telephone number is 202-736-9145 and my email is XXXXXXX@state.gov. [See the PDF file for the actual email address.]



Andrea R. Mihailescu
Office of Children's Issues

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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