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International child custody cases prove difficult

Often, divorce is a stressful experience. When children are involved, it can make divorce even more difficult for both the parents and children, and sometimes can lead to a child custody dispute. In some circumstances, the dispute can get so out of hand that one parent will flee with a child, even out of the country, in order to evade authorities and the reach of the divorce proceedings. Depending on which country the child is taken to, and whether that country's legal system chooses to cooperate or not, it can be extremely difficult for a parent to legally have the child returned to the United States.

Japan, for example, is an ally of the United States. However, it is not part of the international agreement regarding child abduction. As such, Japan does not assist in returning abducted children to parents who have legal child custody rights in other countries, nor does it extradite or prosecute Japanese citizens charged with crimes related to child abduction or custody interference.

Recently, a child custody dispute occurred when a mother fled to her native Japan with her daughter during a contentious divorce proceeding. Despite the father's numerous requests and appeals, the mother would not return the child to him even though he was granted full legal custody by the U.S. courts in 2008. In April, the mother returned to the United States in an attempt to renew her permanent residency status, whereupon she was arrested. During the non-jury trial that followed, the mother accepted a plea deal in which she agreed to have the child returned to her father in the U.S. The child is currently still living in Japan with the mother's parents while specifics of the return are worked out.

Advocates for left-behind parents are hoping that this case will set a precedent for international child custody cases, given how difficult foreign countries can be in these matters.

Source: Kansas City Star, "Plea deal is struck in international custody case," Bruce Vielmetti, Nov. 22, 2011

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