Archive for April, 2016

Japanese Child Custody

Having lived eight years in Japan (1986-1990 and 1995-1999) I can say it’s the nation I know best outside the US.  The first four years was during the most inflated period of the “financial bubble”.  At the end, fall 1990, a small wastebasket at my neighborhood store cost $32. and a square mile in the downtown area where I worked had more “value” than all the real estate in California or Canada.  The Japanese were “masters of the universe” and acted like it.

Four years later the economy had crashed, I saw my first “dollar stores (100 yen stores locally)” and the folks, especially business executives, were a lot more humble.   Ironically, the yen was about 20% stronger, so it was a lot better for us foreigners living there.  Of course many things remained the same: greater Tokyo still had 32 million people (approximately California’s population in one urban area of only 30 miles radius) and my local train station, Shinjuku, still had eight million bedraggled commuters passing through every weekday.

Of course the essential components of Japanese culture remained the same (most importantly always putting harmony above any possible discord-very important in such a densely packed place), while two post-war trends were becoming more and more clear.  The first was smaller families: prior to the war women were very subservient, had an average of six children and were expected to eat their meals alone in the kitchen; by the 1990’s 1-2 children was the family norm.  The second major trend was a doubling of the divorce rate during that same 50 year period.

The higher divorce rate, along with greater Western influence from the Internet and greatly increased international travel, has begun to put some of Japan’s Confucian traditions under great pressure. The importance of group harmony is perhaps the number one value that Confucius imparted over 2,500 years ago to the Chinese and later was adopted by Koreans and Japanese.  As far as child custody after a divorce, both the Chinese and Japanese have believed that it is better for one parent to have sole custody.  This means that the other parent has no rights of any kind, including even minimal visitation.

The best example of this was Prime Minister Koizumi, who was elected in 2001.  Mr. Koizumi was a major cultural, as well as political phenomenon. He was, if you can imagine, a melding of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.  Koizumi was the most popular post-war prime minister, spoke fluent English (an extremely rare talent for any Japanese politician, especially a prime minister) and, to top it off, was an Elvis fanatic, even to the extent of visiting Graceland with President Bush.

Mr. Koizumi had two sons and was divorced relatively early in his political career. His third son was born a few months after the divorce was final.  The family court judge awarded sole custody of the first two sons to Koizumi (he never remarried and his sister did most of the actual parenting) and sole custody of the third son to his mother.   Neither of the two elder sons had any contact whatsoever with their mother and, of course the third son had no contact with his father.

The link at the top of this articles shows that many Japanese are objecting to the old Confucian-style system of child custody and the probability is that Japan will move slowly toward a more Western style.  For the sake of the future children of Japan, let’s hope it’s more toward the egalitarian Scandinavian style than the adversarial Anglo-Saxon style, which leaves kids in conflict, parents impoverished and lawyers wealthier than ever.





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Antipodean Child Custody

I probably need to explain the first word of the title to my American audience. I first came across this word two decades ago when I was supervising the foreign staff for a large Japanese training company.  Very soon after being recruited from California, I was told that I should quickly fire two staff members: A “Kiwi” who came to work with a “gloomy face” (ignoring the fact that he came from a close-knit rural family and two of his family members had recently died) and an “Ozzie” who was considered too uppity because he had near fluency in Japanese and therefore was the only “gaijin” in the office who could decode the local staff’s conversations.

Needless to say I fought my bosses on their “Antipodean antipathies” and we all left the company within 18 months.  The experience did help me get reacquainted with a unique culture that I had first encountered with an Aussie college roommate in the 70’s.  The second definition of “antipodes” is “the exact opposite” and that certainly fits in child custody, as it does in many other areas.  Stated simply, the typical Antipodean child custody case should have less conflict than a US one, simply due to demographics: New Zealand is 86% urban and Australia is 89%, making them two of the most urban nations in the world, especially if one excludes Europe and the many small island nations.  What’s more, 32% of Kiwis live in one city, Auckland, and Aussies are concentrated in the southeast corner of the country.  This is crucial because studies have found that four years after separation or divorce, up to 75% of custodial parents move away.  In a very mobile and widely separated nation like the US, this invites deep conflict, assuming both parents desire regular access to their children.

The Antipodes, however are the opposite when it comes to the probability of being involved in an international child custody case.  The above kink is to a Kiwi court case but it’s actually an Irish mother!  Within the article is a link to another Kiwi family court case but this one involves an American dad and his fight to bring his kids to the US to visit their grandparents (maybe the Kiwis haven’t yet discovered this, but in the US this is typically done by posting a substantial bond with the court). These cases will no doubt become more and more common since New Zealand has a very open economy and thousands of foreigners have been lured there by the weak Kiwi currency and the breathtaking scenery featured in the Lord of the Rings films.

As for Australia, I would invite the reader to google “Australia 60 Minutes Lebanese child custody case”.  Apparently this spin-off of the famous US show doesn’t have quite the same high journalistic standards.   The story involves the show paying for kidnappers to abduct her children from their father in Lebanon!  I suppose it was intended to be a mini-version of the compelling Sally Field drama, “Not Without My Daughter(in which an American mother tries to smuggle her child out of Iran in the 1980’s)”.  The show was unsuccessful in pulling off the caper but I would guess that it garnered high ratings down under.

In summary, these cases seem appropriate for a high UN Commission but that organizations track record of spending most of its time, money and energy on issues of political correctness would offer little hope for the unfortunate parent involved in an international child custody case.

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Israel, The Hague Convention and Child Abduction

The above link is to the story of a father fighting for access to his son in both the American and Israeli courts.  It harks back to extensive research on international child abduction I had done for my case in 2008.  I consulted the website “Find the” and it had a fascinating comparison of the most active nations involved in this pathetic crime. The same website today states that there are 350,000 child abductions done annually in the US, many of which become international cases.

I wasn’t able to find the quick nation-by-nation comparison table, so I’ll rely on my memory from 2008.   In that year there were more US-Israeli cases than there were US-UK, US-Mexico and US-Italy combined! I was astounded given that those three nations combined have about thirty times the population of Israel as well as greater proximity to the US and three centuries of immigrant connections.

Israel may be very protective of its kids, given that they are surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims, many of whom pray for Israel’s demise and most of whom have relatively large families which could be seen as crushing the small nation of 8 million in a “demographic vice”.

I’m not advising against marriage, or having a child, with an Israeli, just proceed with caution when it comes to child custody after a separation or divorce.  Be VERY cautious with attorneys who will give bland advice on trusting the Hague Convention.

While I’m not a real expert in this area, the Hague Convention seems to be more and more like the new Iranian treaty-looks fine on paper, but it is just a “paper tiger”. People who have put their hopes in a quick reconciliation with their kids have seen their cases drag on for several months or years. The three nations where I’ve spent the most time: Japan, Germany and Israel have all signed Hague and are all strong US allies but all three have low birth rates, fall into the “demography is destiny trap” and fiercely protect those that fall into their court systems, much like the mama bear protected her cubs from the poor Mr. Glass in “The Revanant”.


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Stereotypes and Equal Parenting Laws


The above link takes one to an impressive 13 minute video which shows how our stereotypes can lead to both Parental Alienation Syndrome and holding back the passage of equal parenting laws.

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