Posted on September 21, 2010.
By Masako Suzuki
We married in April 1986 and lived in Japan for five years. I worked, holding workshops and exhibitions of my fabric dye products and running clothing import business. In fact, I earned about three times what my husband did at first even though his income grew bigger later. In 1991 we decided to try to setup a business in Canada and eventually emigrate and so I quit my own job so to go with him and help him be successful. We moved to Canada in October 1992 and bought a house.
In 1994, we had a son, Kazuya David and I became a full time mother. Then in 1996 we applied to immigrate to Canada and later immigrant status but that did not work out.. My husband had an income from his family so he spent most of his time playing with Kazuya whereas I had to work all the time..
Over the next several years we tried to have another child, but that did not workout either. Various issues between my husband and I was making my life difficult and our differences became major issues that continued to escalate. So we decided to part. The worst thing happened then. In March 2005, my husband left to Japan with my son without telling me anything. Kazuya was going to school and really becoming adapted to life in Canada and then suddenly he was gone. In Japan, my husband filed for single custody of our child, which is the norm, and got it. His decision has kept my child out of my life. Since then my life has been a constant battle in Courts. I dearly want to be with Kazuya, who is 15 years old now, and when I realized I cannot not see him I am very saddened and devastated.
Lots of things have happened since then. Today I am fighting tooth and nail against what I see is an archaic Japanese divorce system because it does not recognize dual custody for children of divorce parents. There is only single custody available which means either one of the parents faces the enormous risk of being barred from seeing his or her children. In my case, the victim is myself.
With the Family Court taking my husband’s side, I feel I am not only fighting against my husband but also the whole Japanese system. Sometimes I feel my case for visitation rights to see my son is getting me nowhere because the Family Court has not yet agreed to change the single-custody order that is given to my ex-husband. The justice system says issues on custody are separate from divorce and visitation and that I should settle custody issue first. All this means my son and I cannot see each other for years during these endless Court battles.
Now I lead an organization of hundreds of similar sad parents who cannot see their children after divorce. We are lobbying hard to change the Japanese custody law. We call ourselves “ Left-Behind Parents” and the number of fathers and mothers who suffer enormously are growing daily. We also want Japan to become a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a multilateral treaty that facilitates the return of a child taken from one member nation to another.
Japanese laws are controlled by stubborn bureaucrats. The single custody system basically supports old-fashioned traditional thinking in which children are supposed to belong to a family rather than treated as individuals who have rights of their own. Japan defends this system explaining that one parent brings stability to the child. The other reason, say authorities is that children can be protected from abusive families if the child is taken away from a bad parent. But this is not correct and I am determined to correct this..
Editor’s note: Divorce rates are climbing in Japan with 250,000 cases filed in 2008 with sixty percent of children living with one parent.