Returning Home For a Better Life or Parental Kidnapping?


Parental kidnapping has been an issue many people across the country and the world have had to face. Iraq veteran and New Jersey resident Michael Elias alleges that he has experienced it firsthand.  Elias, who returned home from Iraq three years ago, alleges that upon his return, his former wife told him she wanted a divorce. However, if only Elias could foresee what was to come—an international custody battle with his former wife, who is now living with their two children approximately 7,000 miles away in Japan.

Upon divorce, Elias and his former wife were granted joint custody by a Bergen County Court. In order to prevent either parent from taking the children out of the country, the Court directed that the children’s passports be surrendered. With the children’s passports surrendered and a court order of joint custody, Elias thought he had nothing to worry about. 

However, during a routine exchange of the children a few months later, Elias waited for his children to be dropped off for his parenting time. What he didn’t know what that he former wife and their two children were on a plane to Japan, violating the custody order. Since Elias’s former wife worked at the Japanese Embassy, she was able to get new passports for the children. How did she obtain new passports for the children legally and now that she is in Japan with the children, does it really even matter?

Japan is not a party to the Hague Convention on Parental Kidnapping, so what is Elias supposed to do? Whether or not Elias’s former wife had legitimate reasons for moving to Japan with her children, I wonder if this is really in the children’s best interest. While I do not know the interworking of the Elias family, I do believe that in most situations, parents should foster and promote healthy relationships with the other parent, and children thrive better when they have substantial parenting time with both of their parents. So if we really think about it, the children are the ones who are being punished the most. They have a right to have access to both parents, and decisions like the one Elias’s former wife made will affect the children for the rest of their lives.

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