In an unpublished appellate opinion on March 27, 2020, the Court of Appeal of the State of California (2nd Appellate District, Division 2) affirmed a mother’s request to relocate her child to Japan.
In re Marriage of Inoue (B289261 c/w B290642, Cal. App. 2020), had the child’s father appealing the trial court’s decision to allow the child’s international relocation. Both parents were born and raised in Japan, and met and married in the United States. Their son was born in the United States. In November 2016, the petitioner mother requested permission to relocate with the child to Tokyo, arguing that her residence in Japan was the only option for her to become self-supporting and that both parents’ families would be a support system for her and the child in Japan. The respondent father argued against the relocation and raised concerns that any California custody order would not be enforceable in Japan, that joint custody is not a recognized custodial arrangement in Japan, that the minor child would be harassed in Japan due to his American heritage, and the child was not sufficiently fluent in the Japanese language.
The appellate opinion referenced California caselaw, which indicates that before a court permit any international relocation, the trial court should “take steps to [e]nsure its orders… will remain enforceable throughout the minority of the affected children.” In re. Marriage of Condon, 62 Cal.App.4th 533 (1998).
The father’s appeal focused primarily on this “enforceability” issue. On appeal, the Court concluded that the trial judge adequately addressed this issue, accepting evidence on Japanese law and procedure by affidavit (noting that oral testimony was not necessary because no material factual dispute existed). While the affidavits appeared to disagree on the enforceability issue, and more specifically any process available in Japan to enforce the CA custody order, the Court concluded that there were processes in place in Japan, including a process of “mediation” where the parties could mirror the provisions from the CA custody order. The trial court further examined the mother’s motivations, the fact that there are laws in place between the US and Japan (i.e., the Hague Abduction Convention), and the mother’s use of legal mechanisms to relocate the child instead of unilaterally moving the child, among other things. The court also employed a financial disincentive for the mother to ignore the terms of its order by allowing the father to place his child support into an account if she behaved badly that he could then use to seek the mother’s compliance. Finally, the trial court made note in its order that the United States was the child’s habitual residence and California maintained continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify its order under the UCCJEA (the appellate court did not address whether this added language would actually have any impact on a potential future Hague Abduction petition or whether it would prevent Japan from later modifying the custody order).
*This opinion is not published in any official reporter, and is not permitted to be cited or relied on by parties or counsel. The author of this post wants to note that there is a distinction between a foreign country’s recognition of an order and whether that order would ultimately be enforced.