The hell of Japan’s divorce laws


An ex-resident of Japan tells the story of how he may never see his daughter again, as a result of the country’s laws governing divorce

Vincent and his daughter, Emilie

MONTREAL — I need time to heal. I am still raging at my Japanese ex-wife and the way the laws of Japan allowed her to gain custody of our daughter. The shock of the outcome shook my faith in people. After living in Tokyo for 23 years, I moved back in with my parents near Montreal on June 30, 2012.

I met my former wife on the Internet. We were divorced, she in her late 30s, I in my early 40s, and neither of us had children. After dating for a few months she got pregnant. The news was exciting and we eventually got married. Our daughter Emilie was born on February 9, 2011.

However, the marriage didn’t work out. We constantly fought and once the police were called to our house. Then after Christmas in December 2011 my wife returned to live with her parents in Tokyo and took Emilie with her.

The divorce proceedings were inhuman and brutal. I almost died. I walked out of the court mediation in shock and fainted. Luckily, I had asked my father to come for moral support. I had prepared documents that I had professionally translated, and I had hired an interpreter, but I wasn’t prepared for the process. I won’t go into details but the whole process of a contested divorce would have taken two years during which time I would not have been allowed any visits with my daughter. After walking out of the first mediation hearing, I realized the Japanese system was biased towards whomever the child was currently living with.

What I did know is that I wasn’t going to waste my life on what I believe is a rigged process. My dad couldn’t stay with me in Tokyo for the many months it would take in court, so I signed the divorce papers giving my wife full custody of Emilie. I saw what had happened to my divorced friends, how their ex-wives manipulated them or cut them off completely. If I had been employed in Japan, I would have fought on principle, but without a job I didn’t have the financial or emotional resources to do that. I left Japan soon after the divorce, a broken man.

In Montreal, I visit friends and family, I read, I go to the theatre. I wrote a short book on Shakespeare’s plays. I need to get my mind off things and when a friend invited me to sail the Caribbean with him, I said, ‘yes.’ He needs someone to help him with his boat and I need to get away. I almost died and I still need to heal.

My parents are very supportive. In order to function and to be productive and happy again, I have to do exactly as my father says: I have to move on the same way one moves on after losing a child. But I can’t just forget my daughter when I know she is alive, when I know she’s been deprived of her father. I have to juggle my feelings.

I avoid talking about Emilie with friends and family. When asked, I give a very short account but I explain that talking about it is painful. When I talk with friends, it’s difficult for me to get off the topic once I’ve started and it ruins the evening.

I believe my wife and her family treated me in a shameful manner. But I have plans to meet with my daughter again, but I don’t know how I can do it. I am hoping that in the next few years Japan will change its laws and force my ex-wife to allow contact. We’ll see what the future brings.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of Vincent Poirier and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Majirox News.

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16 Responses to The hell of Japan’s divorce laws

  1. Bill Hickman on 10/12/2012 at 11:07 pm

    We have two grandchildren who are in Japan with their mother and her family. Our son is trying to get a divorce but would like to be able to see his children. Why, in this day and age, are things like kidnapping children to Japan allowed to happen? Can’t the United States apply some sort of sanctions on them. We have never seen our one grandchild and she is 5 years old. We haven’t seen the other for 5 1/2 years. There must be a way for left behind fathers to be able to see, have, hold and love their children. Children are not possessions and both parents have a right to spend time with them. As grandparents, we are getting to the point where we think we may never see our grandchildren. It is so sad for our son. It just makes one cry.

    • Vincent Poirier on 10/13/2012 at 10:43 pm


      The US and Canadian embassies, and others, are applying some pressure. The Canadian consul helping me told me that child custody issues is the top non-commercial, non-military issue with them and that all major embassies in Tokyo had monthly meetings with each other about this.

      In my case because we were living in Japan, the Hague Convention doesn’t apply.

      However, diplomacy is a slow business. Ultimatums are simply never made, unless war is imminent.

      One thing I would like to emphasize: Japanese people do this to each other all the time. A wife wanting a divorce can one day snatch the kids and deprive her husband of all access. In 10% of cases it is the husband who acts first.

    • SL Choo on 02/11/2013 at 5:32 pm

      hi I am so sorry to hear your (Vincent) story. I also have a problem with my Japanese partner, we met on internet too. unfortunetely our marriage did not work out either. I am seeking to divorce him, of course I do not have a child with him, his almost destroy my life, hopes and everything that I would dreams for. I came to Japan less than a three years, still cannot speaking Japanese. The worse nightmere now I may facing lived seperated with my 11 years old son after return back to England, I have no job and not enough funds in the bank account. Just enough able to find a cheap room rent accomodation, restart all over my life in England. This divorce also not entitle to claims any compensation from him. he start to using a nasty, lies cunning way to protect to pay out.I am very sad and heart broken, because my son soon will go back to lived with his father ( my Ex), and me will be alone. I am not that young anymore. so frightening when I think all this problems will facing very soon…
      I also hear from many people say, foreign men/ and women do not granted allow to stay in Japan after divorce. the long term resident permit and work permit is not easy to get too.
      sorry, my story not so much same as yours, but just a same kind of mistake met a person on internet.
      Japan is a lovely country but the divorce law can be very brutal hurts.

  2. AT on 10/13/2012 at 4:53 am

    I am a little curious about your story here. You mention that you had lived in Japan for 23 years. That is a long time. You then say you are in your early 40′s. Ok. So you have lived more than half of your life in Japan. You should have some decent Japanese language skills by now. What were your doing in Japan for 23 years?

    You mention: “If I had been employed in Japan, I would have fought on principle, but without a job I didn’t have the financial or emotional resources. ”

    Weren’t you working and earning a living? What were you doing in Japan for 23 years?

    I would also think all of the information about The Hague Treaty that has been in the news over the past several years would have drawn your attention at some point. Though I have a great deal of sympathy for you and your plight, you are not the first gaijin to end up in this situation. Some of these Japanese “child kidnapping” stories have even made national news in the U.S.

    Indeed in Japan possession of the child seems to be 99% of the law, and I wish you luck, but I am curious about living for 23 years in Japan and being unemployed.

    • Vincent Poirier on 10/13/2012 at 10:52 pm

      I was working in IT but I was laid off a little before the current economic crisis started. Japan suddenly became a bad place for a middle-aged foreigner to look for work.

      I had made good money for some time, I had lived frugally, and I was counting on weathering out the recession.

  3. David on 10/13/2012 at 10:30 am

    You met your wife on the Internet and only after a few months she got pregnant so you got married. How well did you know this woman before you took the rubber off? Did you ever even consider using birth control? Getting your girlfriend pregnant is not the best reason for getting married. It’s the worst.

    You say that you lived in Japan for 23 years so I’m going to assume that you became quite fluent in Japanese and Japanese culture over that time. That would mean that you should have known the rules that you were playing by if you did happen to get married.

    So now you’re saying the laws in a foreign country are unfair. Well they maybe unfair, but who’s at fault here?

    You are.

    You knew the laws of the country you were in. You weren’t taking proper when precaution when having sex. Then, you doubled down on the situation by getting married with this lady you first met months ago.

    Stop blaming Japan for your mistakes.

    • Vincent Poirier on 10/13/2012 at 11:29 pm


      Thank you for your comments.

      I do accept responsibility for my mistakes, but I was living in Japan, I was paying taxes in Japan, and I was committed to living there. I am very pro-Japan in many many things and I think I have earned the right to express my opinion. And family law in Japan is very harsh.

      As I wrote in a reply above, the problem has nothing to do with prejudice against foreigners: Japanese do this to each other all the time. And it is beginning to take its toll.

      Japanese society is changing. The old stereotype of the husband working 80 hours a week never seeing his family had some truth to it. Today, Japanese fathers are expected to carry babies around, change diapers, etc. And they enjoy it!

      However, divorce is on the rise in Japan as it is elsewhere. Many Japanese fathers, and a few mothers, get back home one day to find their children gone. Despite numerous studies showing that it is better for both parents to be involved in raising their kids, Japanese courts go on believing that cutting the cord is the best solution.

      The hell of divorce in Japan is not a foreigner problem, it’s a Japanese problem. But foreign pressure (“gai-atsu” in Japanese) is famous for being used as an excuse by politicians to change the status quo. So by publicizing my story, and by blaming Japan to use your word, I feel I am helping Japan and my Japanese friends.

  4. GFK on 10/13/2012 at 3:43 pm

    Somehow Japanese Women dont see the foreign ex-husband as a plus for the child. Obviously it would be so good for the kid to have a strong background in both cultures. This is what I dont understand the most: A mother should want the best for their children, so this clear selfish behaviour of “I dont want to see my ex-husband again” is not the best for the kid. There is a culture of ignoring issues and walking away, avoiding conflict to make others not loose the face and not to be confronted with own failures. I believe that the love of a mother should be bigger than that and allow intense contact with the father because it is the best for the child. Japanese law focussing on “who ever has the kid can keep the kid” is not focussing on the kids wellbeing, and has its origin in the culture of silently accepting facts and avoiding change or confrontation. It is not about the mother or the father, it is about the kid! And the current system needs to change especially because there will more and more cases in which the kids will be the ones who loose by not having access to both parents. The kid feels abandoned, the fathers hearts breaks, the mother has a very stressful life. So who wins? The ego of the mum I guess.

    • Vincent Poirier on 10/13/2012 at 11:34 pm

      Sorry, I should have said so explicitly in the article but as I wrote above in replies, this isn’t a foreigner problem and I am not accusing Japanese courts of being racist.

      Japanese people do this to each other all the time and there are far more Japanese men and children suffering because of this this than there are foreign men and children.

    • Vincent Poirier on 10/14/2012 at 2:59 am

      Reasonable Japanese women in Japan do behave in the best interest of the child.

      However when emotions run high, people anywhere seldom behave reasonably. Over time, our laws help: the primary parent is required to let the other parent see the child regularly. A good legal systems helps ensure reasonable outcomes.

      In Japan, the law has *not* reached the reasonable state it has in other developed countries.

  5. Oleg on 10/14/2012 at 2:55 am

    It sounds more like you lived there for 2~3 years than 23 years.

  6. Dan on 10/28/2012 at 1:22 pm

    This is the BIGGEST deterrent for me not wanting to get married anywhere or have children with a woman. Chivalry has gotten out of hand to where men have damn near enslaved ourselves in the name of “being fair/protective of women”. For the longest i thought of japan as being a sort of safe-haven away from the harmful effects of feminism but what an delusional fool i was. What surprises is that in cases such as these, people can still write comments on here blaming YOU for what happen, where as no one EVER turns around and blame women when the gender is reversed. It DOES NOT MATTER HOW LONG YOU LIVED IN THAT COUNTRY, this is INJUSTICE pure and simple. And yes, you are a victim. I’m sorry this happened to you, i can’t imagine how you must feel. Please learn from this and open your eyes to the state of the world when it comes to the treatment of males. Do not repeat this mistake in ANY COUNTRY.#MensRightsMovement

    • Vincent Poirier on 11/22/2012 at 3:29 am


      Thanks for your support.

      Actually, while the laws of Japan have allowed my wife to kidnap my daughter, they would have allowed me to do the same if I had wanted. And there is a quid pro quo: I cannot sue my ex-wife for access but she cannot sue me for child support or alimony.

      Personally, I’d prefer paying child support AND seeing my daughter.

      As for men’s rights, well I am not as radical as you seem to be but I agree there are some distateful assumptions out there, e.g. men cannot be trusted with children.

  7. Casper on 11/28/2012 at 5:01 pm

    Not sure why you both got a divorce in the first place. But, if you are like most foreign men that come here for work, there is a lot of drinking and entertaining to do AFTER usual working hours (unfortunately, a lot of times it is not by choice, but because of “the way business is done here in Japan”). Your ex-wife may have gotten mad and frustrated and felt like you were out “playing” while she was watching and caring for your daughter 24/7. If this was not the case, then forgive me for mentioning this. I just know that I hear a lot of complaints from other housewives regarding matters like this.

    I think that too many couples take the easy way out. It takes a long time getting used to living with each other FIRST before having a child. Unfortunately, you did not have that luxury since your ex-wife was already pregnant. Therefore, there was the added stress of your daughter being your first child (for both of you) and getting used to living with each other (another added stress).

    I think that the mistake that a lot of couples make, is that whenever they get into arguments, they go back home to their parents. REMEMBER, parents NEVER FORGET both the good times and the bad times (but, it seems like they ALWAYS remember the bad times a lot clearer when other problems arise!).

    It is better to stay with a longtime friend (for a week or two) and get their perspective on your relationship. Plus, if you ever get back with your Ex, your friend will know that most couples go through times like these (after all, we are ALL human!). And, they will forget about it eventually (since they are your friend, and they just want you to be happy).

    Most parents will just listen to their child and side with them AGAINST you (REMEMBER, in their minds, you are the outsider – it does not matter if you are a foreigner or Japanese).

    Do not get mad at her parents, because they are like any other parents, just protecting their child. They only hear HER complaints about you and I am sure that it is a very “one-sided” conversation. She may say something negative about you and they may bring up something else that you did or said in the past, etc. until everything has “snowballed” against you for no reason at all (just to make her feel justified for her actions).

    Anyway, the light at the end of the tunnel is, I truly believe in the saying, “what goes around comes around.” Your daughter will turn 18 years old someday and will want to find her father (YOU). And, with the Internet, etc. she will find you and your EX-wife will have a lot of explaining to do. A child does not like to be lied her entire life about her father and why he was not there during her “childhood” and “adolescent” years. YOU will tell her how her mother and her family EXCLUDED you from her life (keep all the legal signed papers regarding child custody and a copy of this article that you have written and show it to her when she is “of age”).

    Who knows, your EX-wife may have the first 18 years of your daughter’s life, but she may choose to spend the rest of her years getting to know you!

    Another thing that you may want to do, is to send your daughter a birthday card every year on her birthday and send it “registered” mail, “TO (your daughter’s name) c/o your EX-wife’s name,” where your EX-wife will have to sign for it or refuse it (either way, you win – if she keeps the card(s) and does not give it to your daughter and your daughter finds out when she is older, she will resent her for not giving it to her OR if your EX-wife refuses it and it gets sent back to you, just keep all of it to give to her someday, including the envelope “unopened”). Remember, if your EX-wife signs for it, keep the confirmation showing that SHE RECEIVED the card/letter). Do not write anything NEGATIVE about your EX-wife, because she may keep the letters to use it against you. Just wish your daughter a “Happy Birthday!” and say how much you love her. Wish it did not come down to this, but it sounds like you have no choice. Best of luck!

    • Vincent Poirier on 12/01/2012 at 11:41 am


      It was not at all the case and you are of course forgiven. In fact I spent a lot of time feeding my daughter, changing diapers, etc. Much to my surprise, I loved all the chores.

      I cannot comment on Majirox about my wife for legal reasons, but I’ve got my full story written elsewhere, just google my full name + Tokyo. I’ve got two blogs, a website, and I review lots of books on Amazon, so I am easy to find.

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