Supreme Court custody decision – Japan

Supreme Court breaks new ground, ruling in favor of U.S.-based Japanese father in international custody battle



The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a U.S.-based Japanese father seeking to reunite with his teenage son, who was taken by his estranged wife to Japan in 2016, concluding that the wife’s dogged refusal to abide by an earlier court order mandating the minor’s repatriation amounts to her “illegally confining” him.

The ruling is believed to be the first by the Supreme Court on cases where return orders by courts have been refused. It is likely to send a strong message regarding domestic legislation that is often slammed as impotent on cross-border child abductions, despite Japan’s commitments under the Hague Convention, following mounting criticism that return orders issued by courts have been ignored.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Nagoya High Court.

This latest case involved a formerly U.S.-based Japanese couple whose marital relationship began to deteriorate in 2008. According to the ruling, the wife unilaterally took away one of her children, then aged 11, in January 2016 and brought him to Japan where the two have since lived together.

Upon a complaint by the husband, a Tokyo court issued in September the same year a “return order” for the child under the Hague Convention, but the wife didn’t comply. When a court-appointed officer intervened to recover the child the following year the wife “refused to unlock the door,” prompting the officer to enter her residence via a second-story window, the ruling said. The mother then put up a fierce fight to retain the child, who also articulated his wish to stay in Japan.

On Thursday the top court overturned a Nagoya High Court ruling that acknowledged the child’s desire to stay in Japan. The latest ruling judged the minor was “in a difficult position to make a multifaceted, objective judgment about whether to remain under control of his mother,” citing his “heavy reliance” on her and the “undue psychological influence” she was likely exerting upon him in his life in Japan. The apparent lack of his free will, the ruling said, meant the mother’s attempt to keep the child equated to detention.

“It’s very common for taking parents to alienate the child against their left-behind parents,” said John Gomez, chairman of nongovernmental organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, noting the lower court ruling ignored “the undue psychological influence, the alienation, by the taking parent against the other parent.”

“Previously, when the children give their opinion, ‘Oh I don’t want to return,’ the enforcement process would stop … But this ruling recognizes we shouldn’t only listen to the words themselves, but we should consider the context that they’ve been influenced,” Gomez continued. “It’s a very critical development.”

Japan belatedly signed the Hague Convention in January 2014, signaling a step toward overcoming its longtime notoriety as a “safe haven” for parents who abduct their children from other countries. But questions have long remained over the effectiveness of its domestic legislation tied to the treaty.

Since the pact entered into force in April the same year, there have been six cases where return orders resulted in bailiffs being dispatched to achieve the handover of children, but none were ultimately successful, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the law, a fine is first imposed on parents who refuse to comply with a court order to repatriate their children.

Should the parents still refuse to relinquish their control of the children, court-appointed enforcement officers will be dispatched to confront them. The bailiffs, who are tasked with convincing the parents with custody to hand over the children, are authorized to enter and search their premises as well as physically restrain them. But the law also stipulates that the officers are prohibited from exerting any physical force on the children themselves, compromising their ability to ensure the children’s return.

“So if it’s a case where a child is willing to leave but a parent is refusing to let go of the child, an enforcement officer can resort to physical force to restrain the parent. But if it’s the child who is protesting by clinging on to the parent, for example, the officer cannot do the same,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

In its 2017 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government expressed concern over Japan’s “ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders.”

While courts in Japan have ordered returns under the Convention, the Japanese authorities “were not regularly able to enforce these orders,” the report said, citing one particular case that remained pending for more than 12 months in which law enforcement failed to enforce the return order.

Source:  “Supreme Court breaks new ground, ruling in favor of US-based Japanese father in international custody battle”, The Japan Times, 15 March 2018 


Courts fail to return disputed children

Courts fail to return disputed children

The Yomuri Shimbun


All domestic legal procedures to compel divorced parents who are refusing to obey finalized court orders to return their children to the children’s country of habitual residence, in keeping with an international treaty, have so far failed, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention) stipulates how to handle the cases of children who have been taken by their father or mother to a foreign state due to divorce or other reasons.

In domestic trials involving the convention, some parents have not obeyed even finalized orders to return such children to the state where they habitually resided. According to the Foreign Ministry, six legal procedures have been conducted to separate children from such parents, but all have failed to bring about the return of the children.

This has led the effectiveness of the Hague Convention to be questioned, and some experts are calling for improvements to the relevant systems.

The Hague Convention is an international rule under which, if a parent takes his or her children to his or her home country without the permission of the other parent, the parent must in principle return the children to the state where the children have their habitual residence.

Parents residing in foreign countries file a suit with family and other courts demanding the return of their children to their countries. The courts then decide whether to accept such demands through trials or other procedures.

If the other parent refuses to return their children in defiance of the court decision, implementation by proxy (see below) of the children’s return will be carried out, following the implementation of fines.

The Hague Convention went into effect in April 2014. According to the Foreign Ministry, from then until January this year, there have been 23 cases in which courts have ordered, through a trial, the return of children to states where they have their habitual residence.

Of these cases, implementation by proxy was conducted in six cases involving 14 children. However, the parents would not agree and refused to hand over their children, holding them tightly in their arms or using other means. As a result, none of the children were returned in these six cases.

Under the Japanese law for implementation of the convention, it is impossible to forcibly separate children from parents through implementation by proxy.

A lawyer for a male U.S. national who had filed such a suit under the Hague Convention pointed out the weak effectiveness of the Japanese implementation law, with the U.S. system — in which parents who do not obey court decisions can be detained — in mind.

Shinichiro Hayakawa, a professor of international private law at the University of Tokyo, said: “The current situation in which parents are allowed to refuse to return their children is problematic. It’s necessary to consider improving the system to enhance the effectiveness of the treaty while paying attention to the mental and physical condition of children.”

Decision could be overturned

On Monday, the first petty bench of the Supreme Court held a hearing for a case filed by a father living in the United States who is demanding the return of his 13-year-old son. The boy’s mother lives in Japan and refused to obey an order to return the son to the United States and accept implementation by proxy.

The case was closed the same day, after hearing from both sides. A ruling will be handed down on March 15, and may be overturned by the Nagoya High Court’s Kanazawa branch that refused the father’s demand.

At the hearing, the father’s side claimed that the mother’s act ignored the purpose of the convention. The mother’s side claimed that their son wants to live in Japan and so he should not be returned to the United States even though a return order was issued under the treaty.

The parents in this case are both Japanese nationals. They divorced in the United States, and the mother took their son to Japan in 2016. The father filed a suit demanding the return of the son under the implementation law.

The Tokyo High Court’s order to return him was finalized. However, when court enforcement officers arrived at the home of the mother and son, the mother wrapped herself and her son in a futon and refused to cooperate. Therefore, the boy could not be returned.

Implementation by proxy

If a person does not obey court orders or other directives, court enforcement officers and other people visit the person to implement the relevant orders in a compulsory manner. Under the Japanese implementation law for the Hague Convention, such officers and parents demanding their children’s return visit the relevant children and ask the other parent living with the children to return them. Court enforcement officers are allowed to unlock and search homes, and to attempt to persuade the other parent. However, they are not allowed to forcibly separate parents and children who refuse to accept the implementation.

Source:  “Courts fail to return disputed children”, The Japan News, 6 March 2018

Snow in London

Hello Hugo

You turn nine and a quarter today.  It snowed overnight in London – the weather in the UK is very bad this week.  I went out early and took some photographs of the snow for you – please see below.  I am going up to see Grandad on Friday evening; I’m taking a plane up to Newcastle and am hoping that the flight is not cancelled because of the bad weather.

Hope you are keeping well.


C (Children)

The Supreme Court has given a decision in the case of C (Children).  It is a decision concerned with habitual residence and wrongful retention under the Hague Convention.  There is an article about the decision in the Law Society Gazette and the full judgment can be read here.  I reproduce below the press summary issued by the Court:

In the matter of C (Children) [2018] UKSC 8
On appeal from [2017] EWCA Civ 980
JUSTICES: Lady Hale (President), Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Carnwath, Lord Hughes
This matter centres around a married man and woman who, until 2015, had been living together in Australia with their two children. By the end of 2014 the marriage was in difficulties. The mother, who holds British citizenship, wanted to make a trip to England with the children before returning to work from maternity leave. The father agreed to an eight-week stay. The mother and the children came to England on 4 May 2015 where they have since remained. Discussions between the mother and father resulted in the father agreeing to an extension of the eightweek visit up to a year. Based on the extension, the mother gave notice to her employer and looked for work in England.  In September 2015, the mother enrolled the older child at a local pre-school. Without telling the father, on 2
November 2015, she applied for British citizenship for both children who had entered England on six-month visitor visas. Her solicitors wrote a letter to the immigration authorities on her behalf indicating that she and the children could not return to Australia for fear of domestic abuse.
In continuing correspondence, the father pressed the mother on the children’s expected date of return. The mother indicated that she did not know what her plans were but made clear that she would not be returning in May 2016. In June 2016, she expressed her intention to remain in the UK.
The father made an application in the High Court under the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Abduction Convention”). The issue of when the mother had decided not to return to Australia was in contention. The mother’s own case was that by April 2016 she had felt she and the children would not be returning. The arguments before the Court meant that, on any view, there was a decision not to return to Australia before the expiry of the agreed year. The judge held that the children were habitually resident in England and Wales by the end of June 2016 so that mandatory summary return was unavailable under the Abduction Convention. But he accepted mother’s evidence that she did not have the intention, in November
2015, or before April 2016, not to return to Australia.
The mother now appeals against the Court of Appeal’s decision. The issues in the appeal are: (1) what is the effect on an application under the Abduction Convention if a child has become habitually resident in the destination state before the act relied on as a wrongful removal or retention occurs; and (2) if a child has been removed from
their home state by agreement with the left-behind parent for a limited period can there be a wrongful retention before the agreed period of absence expires (so-called “repudiatory retention”)? The father cross-appeals on the issue of habitual residence.
The Supreme Court allows the appeal and dismisses the cross appeal. Lord Hughes gives the lead judgment with whom Lady Hale and Lord Carnwath agree. Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson each give judgments concurring on the two points of principle but dissenting on the outcome of this case on its facts.
Issue 1
When considering the general scheme of the Abduction Convention, the construction that summary return is available if, by the time of the act relied on as a wrongful removal or retention, a child is habitually resident in the state where the application for return is made is unpersuasive. That construction is inconsistent with the operation
of the Abduction Convention since 1980 and its treatment by subsequent international legal instruments. [19]
The Abduction Convention is designed to provide a summary remedy which negates the pre-emptive force of wrongful removal or retention and to defeat forum-shopping. [21] The point of the scheme adopted by the Abduction Convention was to leave the merits to be decided by the courts of the place of the child’s habitual residence. If the forum state is the habitual residence of the child, there can be no place for a summary return to
somewhere else, without a merits-based decision. This understanding of the scheme of the Abduction Convention is reflected in the provisions of both the Revised Brussels II Regulation and the 1996 Hague Convention on Recognition, Enforcement and Coperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection
of Children. [23]
The Abduction Convention cannot be invoked if by the time of the alleged wrongful act, whether by removal or retention, the child is habitually resident in the state where the request for return is lodged. In such a case, that state has primary jurisdiction to decide on the merits, based on the child’s habitual residence, and there is no room
for a mandatory summary decision. [34]
Issue 2
Repudiatory retention has been recognised in some jurisdictions, but no generally accepted international practice or authority exists on the point. [39] The desirability of inducing a prompt change of mind in the retaining parent is an argument for recognising a repudiatory retention when and if it occurs. The 12 month time limit for seeking mandatory summary return runs from the point a repudiatory retention occurs and that period may pass before an applicant is aware of the repudiatory retention. However, it is not a limitation period but a provision in the child’s interest to limit mandatory summary return. Once elapsed it renders a summary return discretionary.

The concern that repudiatory retention would make Abduction Convention applications longer and more complicated is a point well made. However, Family Division judges are used to managing applications actively and controlling any tendency to spill outside the relevant issues. Further, if repudiatory retention requires an overt act or statement,
this lessens the danger of speculative applications. [46-48]
Repudiatory retention is possible in law. The objections to it are insubstantial, whereas the arguments in favour are convincing and conform to the scheme of the Abduction Convention. It would be unwise to attempt an exhaustive definition of proof or evidence. An objectively identifiable act of repudiation is required, but it need
not be communicated to the left-behind parent nor does an exact date need to be identifiable. [50-51]
On the present facts there could not have been a wrongful retention in April 2016 as the mother’s internal thinking could not by itself amount to such. If she had such an intention in November 2015, the application to the immigration authorities could have amounted to a repudiatory retention. But it was open to the judge to believe
the mother’s evidence that she did not possess this intention in November. [55] There is no basis in law for criticising the judge’s decision as to habitual residence. [57]
Lord Kerr dissents on the outcome of this case on its facts. He expresses misgivings about repudiatory retention requiring an overt act by the travelling parent. [63] The judge’s finding that wrongful retention did not arise in this case could not be reconciled with his statement that the mother had concluded by April 2016 that she and the children should remain in England. [68] Moreover, the judge’s conclusion that the mother had not formed any intention to retain the children in England in November 2015 is insupportable as he failed to address the question of what bearing the letter of November 2015 had on her intention. [72]
Lord Wilson also dissents on the outcome of this case on its facts. The solicitor’s letter to the immigration authorities in November 2015 represented a major obstacle to any finding that the mother had not by then intended to keep the children in the UK indefinitely. The judge’s finding as to the mother’s intention in November
2015 was flawed and the Court of Appeal were correct to order a fresh inquiry into her intention. [91-92]
References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment
NOTE: This summary is provided to assist in understanding the Court’s decision. It does not form part of the reasons for the decision. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.
Judgments are public documents and are available at:


Child Abduction Conference, 9 February 2018

I attended the 1 King’s Bench Walk annual child abduction conference on Friday. I have attended every year since 2014 and the conference has been running since 2003 so this was the 15th year. It was again chaired by Richard Harrison, QC. I will single out just two of the talks.

There was an interesting opening talk by Mr Justice Francis. He was appointed to the High Court bench relatively recently and was the judge in the distressing Charlie Gard case which made news around the world in 2017. He spoke about that and about international cases involving children. He made the point that better liaison between judges of different countries would help to improve the quality of judicial decision making in countries were that was an issue as well as helping to better manage individual cases being litigated in two countries. He was also critical of countries which assigned low level family judges to abduction cases given the importance of the same: in the UK all abduction cases are dealt with in the High Court.

As in previous years, a talk was given by a representative of the charity Reunite. This was the only part of the day that Japan was mentioned, twice. In the course of the presentation, the speaker revealed that Reunite is currently working with the Japanese authorities to promote co-mediation. At the end of the presentation the chairman asked the speaker whether there were any “particularly challenging” Hague countries in terms of the recovery of children. The speaker replied, as I knew she would, by saying simply “Japan”. She it appeared did not seem to see the need to expand on this answer but when asked to do so by the chairman she went on to explain that “enforcement is not pushed” in Japan because it is “not engrained in its legal culture.” She also said that she did not see this changing any time soon.

This was just intended as a short write-up; anyone wanting to know more is welcome to get on contact.