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International custody dispute decided by federal court in Florida

A federal court in Florida ruled last week that a 20-month-old baby girl will be returned to her mother in Okinawa, Japan. The court made its decision under the Hague Convention, a cross-national agreement designed to prevent parental kidnappings. This is the first decision to benefit Japan since 2014, when Japan agreed to join the treaty.

The child's father is a United States soldier. The U.S. Middle District Court in Florida ruled that the man must return his daughter to the mother in Okinawa. The court ruled that Okinawa is the baby's "habitual residence."

Japan was at first reticent to adopt the Hague Convention due to cultural differences in which child abduction by a biological parent is not consistently viewed as unlawful. In the past, Japan's delay in adopting the Hague Convention made it difficult for non-Japanese citizens to regain custody of children abducted by Japanese parents. In many cases, parents even had a difficult time getting visitation rights. In this instance, the Hague Convention has benefited a Japanese citizen, as the judge ruled that the solder unlawfully absconded with his child, and unlawfully prevented the mother from having access to the baby.

According to court documents, the woman had been subjected to sexual and domestic abuse by the solider. Later, after they had been separated for some time, the woman came to Florida for a wedding and invited the man to attend. There, the man ripped his baby from the mother's arms while she was attending a wedding in Florida.

Police arrived after the altercation, but the woman couldn't explain her side of the story since she only spoke Japanese, and the father convinced authorities that she attacked him. Previously, a Florida court ruled in the father's favor. However, the more recent federal court ruling turned the tables in favor of the mother after the full story became clear, and it was deemed that the Hague Convention applied.

When there's an international custody dispute between two parents, it's important to have an experienced family law attorney advocate on your behalf. The sooner you can get such a disagreement resolved, the better it is for the children and all parties involved.

Source:, "US Court Rules Against Soldier, Returns Baby to Okinawa Mom," Chiyomi Sumida, March 24, 2017

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