American father wins custody of child after divorce from Japanese woman

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OSAKA

A Nicaraguan-born man who lives in the U.S. state of Wisconsin has been awarded custody of his 9-year-old daughter, ending a four-year court battle with his former Japanese wife.

Moises Garcia married Emiko Inoue in 2002 and settled in Wisconsin where their daughter Karina was born the same year.

However, Emiko took the girl with her to Japan in 2008 against her husband’s wishes. Garcia fought passionately — and spent about $350,000 — to get his daughter back. The liver transplant doctor learned to speak Japanese so he could communicate with a daughter whose English was slipping away.

He hired lawyers in Japan and flew across the Pacific nine times to press his case and try to see his daughter. He enlisted the help of the U.S. State Department and his native Nicaragua. He became active in an advocacy group — Global Future — run by U.S. parents whose children were taken to Japan.

Garcia won a major victory in 2009 when the Japanese courts — which did not recognize the U.S. court that granted Garcia full custody — determined he should have visitation rights. And he kept fighting when his ex-wife appealed and the case dragged on for years.

In all that time, he only saw his daughter three times. The longest visit was for just under two hours at a hotel restaurant. Another visit lasted 10 short minutes at a school open house.

The Osaka High Court, in handing down its ruling, said that Karina had become used to life in the United States with her father and that forcibly returning her to Japan now would be bad for her.

Karina is the first U.S. child abducted by a Japanese parent who was returned to the United States with the aid of the court system.

Her case remains an anomaly, however, because Karina likely never would have been returned if her mother hadn’t flown to Hawaii in April 2011 and been arrested on child abduction charges.

Inoue spent months in a Wisconsin jail until she reached a plea deal with prosecutors: her parents would send Karina home to Garcia and Inoue would be given probation instead of a lengthy prison sentence.

Until laws change in Japan — and family courts gain the power to enforce custody rights — it will be nearly impossible for other parents to be reunited with their children, Garcia said.

“When my ex-wife was arrested, we finally got the enforcement that was missing from the Japanese courts,” he said at a press conference in a Milwaukee hotel. “If my ex-wife had never been arrested, Karina’s alienation would have been completed.”© Japan Today/AFP

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