Taken by grandparents

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Two weeks ago my wife committed suicide following a short depression brought on by work related stress and worries over a short-term cash flow situation. It was a sudden depression, she killed herself without warning within 3 days of being diagnosed.

During the funeral her family began "looking after" our 4 year old daughter while I get myself back on my feet, but now they are blaming me entirely for my wife's death. They hold me responsible for not being aware of the cash-flow problem that finally prompted her suicide, though we actually have other savings that we could easily have accessed, had my wife discussed the matter (like many marriages, she ran the family accounts). Naturally I blame myself for not taking a more active and leading role in organizing the family purse, she was a very capable woman and I let her get on with it. The family have taken this admitted weakness on my part and twisted it into a reason for keeping my daughter.

The family have thus refused to return my daughter, and have limited my access to "weekend daytrips"... if my daughter feels like it. Shortly after the funeral they let themselves into my house (they had a key) and removed all her clothes. They're also demanding I pay the entire funeral expenses, return money they'd given to my wife shortly before her death, and pay for the yochien fees etc for my daughter. They are an entirely Japanese speaking home, so the longer my daughter is there the more she warms to Jiji and Baba, and the less she wishes to see me, the foriegner dad. Although I speak Japanese well, it is not my native tongue and I'm at a distinct disadvantage.

So far I've been trying to keep the peace in the hope that when emotions settle the situation will improve, however today I was called to a "meeting", given a total dressing down and told they have no intention of letting me see her, or allowing me to take her out of the country. As they blame me for their daughters death I can't see that things will ever be worked out to an amicable level.

They live fairly close to my house.

After 21 years in this country I still haven't made my mind up whether to stay in Japan or return to my country of birth, but the latter looks likely. Naturally I wish to take my daughter with me, a situation the family say they will not tolerate.

I'm very, very worried!
Posted By:
crnjapan (26 posts)
12/2/2007 10:40:27 AM
re: Taken by grandparents   profile
If there have been no legal changes in custody, then you are still the custodial parent. If I were you, I would take her on a day trip as soon as you can and leave the country. The longer this goes on, the more they will think they have the right to do this. Once this gets into court, it could be over. Your rights will not be protected in a Japanese family court and I believe that the only solution is to get out while you still have full custody. Your home country will give them much more rights than Japan will give you. Read this article from a law journal and look over the www.crnjapan.com website. Contact me at "webmaster AT crnjapan.com" if you want to talk more. (This email will bounce but read the reply for a valid email address.)

In the Best Interests of the Court: What American Lawyers Need to Know about Child Custody and Visitation in Japan;
crnjapan (26 posts)
12/2/2007 10:55:34 AM
re: Taken by grandparents   profile
And last thing, do not under any circumstances warn the grandparents of what you are about to do. Your daughter may disappear. This sounds heartless but Japanese family law is even more so and is prejudiced against foreigners. Your best idea would be to comply with everything they ask and do anything they ask in order to get them to let you take her on a day trip. This will take preparation on your part, but if you still have legal custody, there is no way they can stop you, unless you give give them warning. In that case, they can easily stop you. Before you do all this, make sure to get a copy of your daughter's koseki that shows you have custody. Carry it with you at all times. With it, you can even get a passport. But your best bet is to get a passport from your home country. Otherwise the people at the government court house might warn the grandparents of you applying for a passport. Trust no one but yourself. And get a lawyer to confirm all this with and so you have someone to rely on if the grandparents start making accusations of child abuse. Accusations of child abuse are the most likely way that they will try to gain custody. I know of another case very similar to yours where this is happening right now. Once the child welfare people got involved, the foreign father cant even find out where his child is.
John (3 posts)
1/13/2008 5:52:18 PM
re: Taken by grandparents   profile
Thank you so much for your sound advice, which was pretty well what I was told by other sources.

Following my initial post above things came to a head with the family. A couple of days later I was allowed to have my daughter for an overnight stay, but she was then whisked off again by the grandfather the following night, who came over to my apartment while I was making dinner and grabbed my daughter. He claimed his wife couldn't stand the thought of my daughter having an enjoyable life with me, so in order to protect his wife's emotions he was taking my girl! I'd be able to see her again when she was 18. I pursued him on foot to their home and demanded my daughter's return. I was punched in the face and verbally abused by the family, but I eventually got her back, albeit in a very traumatised state as she'd witnessed everything. We left Japan 2 days later on the first flight I could get, and I'm now in the UK with my daughter, less all our belongings, but at least we're together, wondering how we can pick up the pieces of our lives.
After 21 years in Japan there are many challenges to face here, but it's a lot better than the nightmare I've just left.

Once again, thank you for all your valuable advice!!

Edited 1/13/2008 5:56:20 PM
mtbiker28 (2 posts)
1/28/2008 8:30:41 PM
re: Taken by grandparents   profile
Thank god you got out. Regarding family law and parent's rights, Japan is such a horribly backward country.
John (3 posts)
8/22/2009 9:28:41 AM
re: Taken by grandparents   profile
I've been encouraged to give an update on events following our return to the UK at the end of 2007.

My daughter and I are in the UK still, and are doing well, she's thriving at school, and we're just about to move to London. The relationship with my late wife's family in Japan has largely improved, we've been exchanging correspondence and they assure me they no longer have any intention of taking my daughter.

I occasionally send them photos of my daughter enjoying a full and comfortable life in the UK, after one such mailing they wrote "we think she's probably better off with you in the UK after all, we're not getting any younger and are used to being by ourselves now". I interpreted that to mean the chief reason they'd backed down is because they didn't want the burden of raising a child during their older years. It seems to me that their fundamental standpoint, that they believe I bear responsibility for the loss of their daughter, hasn't really changed that much, so direct relations remain fairly cool. Parcels of clothes etc from the family etc are invariably addressed to her, not me, though there's usually a note of acknowledgment to me inside.

Nevertheless things are much easier now. Earlier this year I was obliged to return to Japan for 3 weeks and, following correspondence and a phone conversation with the family, I took the risk of taking my daughter too. I met my former inlaws and there was a great deal of hand-shaking, we visited my wife's grave (incredibly she's been interned under her maiden name with no mention of her married name, though this was changed at the time of our wedding). There was no question of apologies for their behaviour, but I was greatly reassured they no longer wish to take my daughter away from me.

I don't think they'll ever come around to accept me again, but they do understand that in order to see their granddaughter again they have to accept my terms and reestablish a workable relationship with her father.

FRIJ recommends you also visit crn japan, who are fighting international abduction to Japan and working to assure children in Japan of meaningful contact with both parents regardless of marital status