Japan finally agrees to sign international child abduction treaty

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Over the last few decades, the number of international marriages -- meaning marriages between people from the United States and people from other countries -- has grown exponentially. Much of this can be attributed to the increasing globalization of business, affordability of international air travel and proliferation of the web-based technology.

Interestingly, the uptick in international marriages has also resulted in a growing number of so-called international abductions in which parents flee the U.S. with their children for their native countries, often flouting child custody orders in the process.

In most situations, however, those parents whose children have been abducted to a country that is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention will have legal recourse available to them.

For those unfamiliar with the Hague Convention, it is an international treaty signed by 89 countries that essentially pledges cooperation in returning children who are kidnapped.

What most people don't realize, however, is that Japan has not yet signed the Hague Convention despite strong urging -- and even condemnation -- from the U.S., France, Britain and other signatory nations.

Japan's reluctance to sign the Hague Convention has proven especially perplexing to many U.S. politicians. That's because more and more Japanese women have returned home with their children and without the permission of a U.S. court for many years, leaving U.S. fathers with little recourse.

For instance, Japanese law does not recognize foreign family court orders and only allows one parent -- typically the mother -- to have custody in divorce cases.

All this appears will soon be changing, however, as both the upper and lower houses of the Japanese parliament have now approved becoming a signatory nation to the Hague Convention. The move was solidified this past week when the upper house voted unanimously to proceed.

After officially becoming a signatory nation, Japan's Foreign Ministry would establish a central authority solely dedicated to processing requests by foreign parents to locate their children, while also attempting to resolve international custody disputes. In the event such cases could not be settled by ministry officials, the matter would be passed on to the family court system.

It should be noted, however, that signing the pact does not mean that Japanese family law would also change, meaning joint custody would likely not become a reality.

Stay tuned for updates ...

It's important to remember that whether you find yourself facing a challenging child custody issue or a terrifying child abduction case that you do have rights and you do have options. Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Source: The Washington Post, "Japan approves joining international child custody treaty amid concerns about abductions," May 22, 2013

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