The Defense Department has promised more information about the family court systems in countries such as Japan and Germany, where servicemembers have become entangled in complicated court battles to see their children, according to a report issued by the Pentagon in August.
According to a recent article in Stars and Stripes, many servicemembers encounter custodial interference, particularly when the other parent lives in Germany or Japan. Many of these parents have not seen their children for years, and get no help from the courts in those two countries.
The Pentagon has come under increasing pressure by members of Congress to address both foreign and domestic custody issues faced by U.S. troops. These issues include not only parental abduction, but also loss of custody due to deployment.
From 2007 to 2009, the number of troops who sought help from the U.S. State Department to get visitation rights with their half-American children rose from eight to 34 in 14 countries, the report stated. A similar increase also has been seen in the civilian population, experts have said. The spike in cases in recent years can also be attributed greater reporting, they said. These figures do not include parents who has relied upon court systems and not reported to the State Department.
Patricia Apy, an international parental abduction lawyer working as a consultant to the State Department says that troops face myriad problems when entering a foreign family court. Language barriers, custody and divorce customs that differ greatly from U.S. standards, difficulty finding an attorney and jurisdictional issues, as well as the impact of status-of-forces agreements and treaties such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction often converge, making the road to resolution difficult.
Two countries, Germany and Japan, have large U.S. military populations and are the countries in which most of the 34 military abduction cases have been reported. Apy says one often insurmountable problem is that family courts often favor the native parent.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., introduced a resolution on the House floor for debate that would call for altering the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to assist servicemembers whose Japanese-American children have been kidnapped by Japanese family members. You may read the Resolution here, and you may track its progress here.
Smith wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes that H.R. 1326 is “a formal, public condemnation of the abduction and wrongful retention of all children being held in Japan away from their American parents,” He called the issue “of paramount importance” to the U.S.-Japan military and economic alliance.
Smith said the resolution would also lay the groundwork for passage of the International Child Abduction Prevention Act, which would impose economic sanctions against countries that do not cooperate with the United States in resolving international child abduction issues. It was also introduced by Smith last year. You may read the proposed Act here and you may track its progress here.
Source: Stars and Stripes, "Report: DOD to Give More Help to Troops in International Child-Custody Disputes," Charlie Reed, 9/28/10
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