From here it looks like Jeffery Morehouse has lost his six year old son, probably for good. It’s not that the Bellevue, Washington man is a bad dad; it’s not that a court took his boy from him; and as far as we know, the child is in good health.
As this article tells us, Morehouse is a good enough father to have been awarded primary custody of his son when he and his wife, Michiyo, Imoto Morehouse, divorced in 2007 (Bellevue Reporter, 10/28/10). But from the very start of their lives as divorced parents, there was something amiss.
We know that because Jeffery made sure that the original divorce decree awarding him custody contained an order that Michiyo was not to take their son out of the state. Clearly, Jeffery was concerned that Michiyo, a Japanese citizen, would try to kidnap the boy and take him to Japan.
Now it turns out his concern was well-founded. Back in May, Michiyo bought two airplane tickets for Japan; Jeffery fought the move in court, successfully getting the judge to issue what I assume was some form of restraining order against his ex-wife.
But all to no avail. In June, Michiyo left her apartment in disarray and fled to Japan, taking the child with her. She left instructions for friends about disposing of her belongings that she left behind.
And according to the law as it currently stands, Jeffery Morehouse will only see his son again if Michiyo decides to permit him to. Again, as we see so often in child custody matters, his rights are effectively in her hands.
Of course there’s the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which would give Jeffery legal power to force the courts to return his son. It would, that is, if Japan had signed the convention, but it hasn’t. Not too long ago, I reported that Japan was considering becoming a signatory of the Convention, but it hasn’t done it yet, so Jeffery Morehouse is left holding a worthless piece of paper signed by a Washington State judge.
Japan is quite frankly and flagrantly anti-father. Fathers essentially never receive custody from Japanese courts when they divorce. And visitation is mostly up to the mother; if she allows it, then the dad can see his child and the child can see his/her father, but if she doesn’t, they’re both out of luck. Asking a Japanese family court to force a mother to allow a father access to his child is a fool’s errand.
King County, Washington prosecutors have filed felony charges against Michiyo, but, with her in Japan, those too are an exercise in futility.
All of which means that, Japan is a safe haven for any Japanese mother anywhere in the world. No matter the laws of the child’s home country, no matter the orders of a court, once her feet hit Japanese soil, there is nothing anyone can do to return a child to its father. Practically speaking, her word is law.
That’s true in Jeffery Morehouse’s case, even though he was apparently found by a family court judge in Bellevue, WA to be the more fit parent, the parent the judge thought was more likely to provide a nurturing environment for the little boy.
So, it’s not enough that there’s a court order in Jeffery’s favor; it’s not even enough that by enforcing Michiyo Imoto Morehouse’s blatantly illegal act, the courts of Japan will be granting custody to a parent who may not be fit. It’s not even enough that parental child abduction is widely regarded as child abuse by mental health professionals who have studied the phenomenon. And finally, it’s not enough that the child has been deprived of the only father he has ever known, likely for his entire childhood.
No, none of that is sufficient for the courts of Japan to do the obvious, right, legal thing, the thing that would most benefit the child. None of that weighs heavily enough to counterbalance the dictates of his mother.
It is long past time for Japan to enter, if not the 21st century, then at least the 20th. It is long past time for Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. And finally, it is long past time for Japan to equalize fathers’ and mothers’ rights so that the children of Japanese parents can have some hope of a real, lasting relationship with both their parents, not just one.