In the document, they (Ai and her parents) also admitted they had libeled Echevarria, accusing him of physically and mentally abusing Ai and Subaru.
It’s rare for a foreigner, especially a male, to receive guardianship. However, this is an unusual story.
Sitting together with Subaru in their immaculate apartment in the city of Yokohama, which neighbors Tokyo, the couple talked about custody and about their endless separations and reconciliations.
Ai, an only child, said it was hard for her to go against her parents’ wishes. “My parents were unhappy that I was with Echevarria.”
Custody for their Son
The battle for Subaru began when Ai returned to Tokyo with him a year ago under the pretext of taking care of her sickly mother Previously, they had lived in Echevarria’s native Barcelona, Spain, where Echevarria worked as a practitioner of osteopathic medicine. They had lived here since they were married three years ago.
Ai phoned Echevarria a week after returning to Japan, saying that she wanted a divorce and wouldn’t permit him to see their son again.
“She said ‘You are like a bird, and I am like a fish, and a bird and a fish cannot be together,’” he said. “Ai told me that she didn’t want me to come to Japan or to see Subaru. Then she asked me for a divorce.”
This hit Echevarria doubly hard because he grew up without a father and didn’t want his son to grow up without him. “I saw my father assassinated in front of our house in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 6 years old. The Basque killed him because he was a policeman.”
Echevarria’s international lawyer urged him not to fight but rather sign the divorce papers.
“The lawyer said that Japan doesn’t respect foreigners’ rights, even when an issue involves the kidnapping of children, and that I didn’t have any other options,” Echevarria said. “He told me to give them whatever they wanted.”
(Japan is currently not a member of the Hague Convention, which defines legal arrangements for custody disputes between couples of different nationalities, and aimed at preventing child abduction. Japan announced that it plans to sign the international treaty at he upcoming G8 meeting. However, it could take years before the law is actually implemented.)
This did not deter Echevarria, as he was determined to see his son. He left for Tokyo in August 2010, after selling his house and health clinic.
The First Meeting
The couple had met five years earlier in Egypt, when Ai was 25 years old and Echevarria was 30.
“When I met Ai, she seemed understanding and adventurous,” he said. “I believed she had the same goals as I had.”
Ai, who worked in social welfare, said that Echevarria was outgoing and knew exactly what he wanted in life. “I was lost and wanted to marry him because of that.”
After leaving Egypt, they continued their relationship by communicating through the Internet. He even proposed online.
“We saw each twice before we got married,” Echevarria said. “She came to Spain for two days, and then I went to Japan for 10 days for her birthday, then we married a year and a half later in September 2007.”
They settled in Barcelona, but Ai had difficulties adjusting to the culture.
She said, “I couldn’t adapt there and felt like I was totally alone. “I was frustrated, and I went through periods of screaming and physically attacking Echevarria.”
She added that she envied Echevarria and his friends, their openness,as she felt unable to express her feelings.
“I wanted to go back home,” she said. “I was crying in front of my parents on Skype and told them that I was depressed.” When her parents asked her to return to Japan, she went.
Echevarria said their problems stemmed from her parents,who kept trying to control Ai’s life.
“They told her that I was abusive; they started putting it into her head that I was aggressive and would hurt her and Subaru.”
Back in Japan
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Echevarria, Ai had decided that she wanted to reconcile with him.
“She denied me the right to see my son and said she would send me the divorce papers and that I shouldn’t leave Spain,” he said. “But then she met me at the airport and said that she loved me and wanted to be with me. She even confessed that her parents had not been sick.”
Ai admitted that the problems in the marriage were her fault. “The longer I was alone, the more I realized that it was my parents’ influence that made me think everything was his fault.”
Things seemed fine, but then one week later, everything started to fall apart again. She wanted a divorce and threw him out.
“She didn’t want me to see my son again, either.”
The Turning Point
This wasn’t the first incident; there had been other accidents. But this was the most dangerous one.
At this point, Echeverria was living in the office of an Italian restaurant in Tokyo while working as a waiter. He returned to Yokohama to help his son, and once again, he and Ai reconciled.
This time, however, it was different. Echeverria threatened to sue her and her parents for neglecting Subaru if they didn’t give him custody and admit to their libelous statements. They all agreed.
Ai has been going to therapy for the last five months. She admits that the problems in their marriage were her fault. “I can’t forgive myself for what I did; I behaved badly toward Echeverria and Subaru.”
Many might wonder why Echeverria stays with his wife. “Because I love my wife, and she’s improved a lot these last few months,” he said. “And I love my son more than ever.”
He added that he’s made some mistakes, too, but said that it’s important to never forget what you did so that you won’t do it again.
“My biggest fear now is that my wife will start to listen to her parents again and won’t be strong enough to stay away from them.” Her parents have an apartment in the same building, although she doesn’t see them.
It’s been only a few months since they have been back together. It’s still too early to know whether Ai and Echeverria will stay together.