By Chris Kramer
In Tokyo, an American father is in jail, charged with abduction of minors. You might immediately suspect that the man in question is some sort of predator, but in fact he is a man facing unbelievably difficult choices.
The children he is accused of abducting are his own, and his intent was to take them back to the United States after their mother, a Japanese native, took them there despite a court ruling that she should share child custody and not take the children out of the country.
Christopher Savoie’s ordeal began following his January divorce from his wife, Noriko. She agreed to live in Franklin, Tenn., near Savoie, and to only return with the children to Japan for summer vacations. Savoie’s ex-wife quickly soured on the arrangement, threatening to return with her children permanently to Japan.
Christopher sought and received a temporary court order restraining her from doing so, pending a hearing. Once the hearing took place, the Judge hearing the case, James G. Martin III declined to extend the order, saying that Noriko Savoie had plenty of incentive to stay, as she would lose her alimony and child support if she fled to Japan permanently.
Noriko and her children, 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca did return from their first trip to Japan, taking another vacation with their father, who returned them to his ex-wife for the beginning of the school year. Days later, he received a phone call from the school, inquiring as to the whereabouts of his children. He made a frantic call to Japan, and found out that they were a world away, his wife refusing to return.
Only then was Savoie granted full custody of his children by American courts. A little too late, but had the children been taken to most countries, it would have been enough to secure the children’s return. Tragically, Japan has not agreed to a 1980 Hague Convention law that secures the return of children abducted to foreign countries.
For Savoie, it only got worse. In Japan, custody is usually awarded permanently to one parent, the other breaking all contact with his or her children. What’s more, the Japanese courts have overwhelmingly awarded custody in these cases to the Japanese parent involved.
The U.S. State Department says it is not aware of a single case where a child abducted from the U.S. and brought to Japan has been returned, even in cases where the U.S. parent has a custody decree. The International Association for Parent-Child Reunion says they are aware of over 100 cases where children have been abducted to Japan by noncustodial parents.
His attorney, Paul Bruno, says that he and Savoie began working with police, the FBI, and the State Department.
"We tried to do what we could to get the kids back," Bruno says. "There was not a whole lot we could do."
This was the situation Savoie found himself in, and left with no other recourse, he took matters into his own hands. The father flew to Japan, tracked down his ex-wife, who according to U.S. law had illegally abducted his children.
As Noriko Savoie walked them to school, Christopher pulled up and forced them to get into his car. He was arrested by Japanese police just feet from the U.S. consulate in Fukuoka, where he intended to seek political shelter and obtain passports that would let him take his children home.
Christopher Savoie could face up to five years in prison if he is convicted. The U.S. consulate remains in contact with him, but there is not much they can do besides help him find an attorney.
"Our court system failed him," says Diane Marshall, a court-appointed parent coordinator who worked with the Savoies. "It’s just a mess."
That’s putting it mildly.
As he awaits his day in Japanese court, Christopher Savoie finds himself living through every parent's worst nightmare.
The U.S. Embassy statement puts it bluntly: “Our two nations approach divorce and child-rearing differently. Parental child abduction is not considered a crime in Japan.”