Custody case a test for Japan, says U.S. father seeking access to girl held by grandmother

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A U.S. man seeking access to his daughter said Monday that the case is an opportunity for Japan to prove to the world it no longer tolerates parental child abduction.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for denying access to his 13-year-old daughter.

His former wife left with the child in 2003, at the age of 9 months, after their marriage failed. The woman committed suicide four years later.

Toland said his situation would amount to a “felony crime” in other countries with up-to-date family laws.

“In Japan, this abduction by a nonparent is not only accepted, but it is condoned. I’m the only parent in the world to (my daughter),” Toland said, who is in Japan for the first time since the trial at the Tokyo Family Court kicked off in July.

Toland said if the case is resolved it would demonstrate to the world that Japan is turning over a new leaf after years of notoriety as a “safe haven” for parental child abduction. If his daughter is not returned to him, he said, it will only alienate the nation further.

Japan joined The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. The pact does not apply in Toland’s case because the abduction was within Japan — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time. In addition to this, the convention cannot be applied retroactively.

“How can we expect Japan to ever resolve more complicated divorce, child custody issues if it cannot even resolve this very straightforward case, which does not involve divorce and where one parent is deceased and the nonparent is withholding a child above the parent who wants to care for her?” he said.

The daughter has said in a statement submitted to the Tokyo Family Court that she does not wish to be reunited with her father, according to Akira Ueno, Toland’s lawyer.

Given that the separation occurred when the girl was a baby, this suggests that her attitude was learned from others and that she is under a misapprehension of what her father is really like, Ueno said.

“In cases this like, Japanese courts have immaturely decided that children shouldn’t be returned to parents, oblivious to the fact that they’re bound to suffer once becoming adults,” Ueno said.

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