In Japan, which bans dual custody, a table tennis star refuses to hand back her son to her ex
TOKYO – Japan’s once beloved table tennis star Ai Fukuhara is at the center of a child custody feud following the breakup of her marriage to a Taiwanese player who was also a star in the sport in his country.
On Thursday, her former husband Chiang Hung-chieh and his lawyers demanded Fukuhara return their younger child she took to Japan last year and has since refused to send back in alleged breach of a joint custody agreement.
Unlike many other countries, Japan doesn’t allow dual custody of children for their divorced parents. Only one parent can take the children, though the other parent can gain visitation rights. In some cases, the parent with custody blocks contact with the other one.
There have been some high-profile cases of custody disputes brought up by foreign husbands divorced from Japanese women accusing them of child abduction.
The couple were legally divorced under Taiwanese law in July 2021 after five years of marriage. They agreed to share custody of their two children — a daughter and a son. Both had been living with Chiang until last summer, when Fukuhara returned to Japan with the younger child.
The plan was for the boy to spend the summer with Fukuhara in Japan, but she has since cut off contact with her ex-husband, refusing to bring the son back to Taiwan, Chiang’s lawyers told a joint news conference in Tokyo.
Chiang urged Fukuhara to follow the Japanese family court ruling and “bring the younger child back to me as soon as possible.”
In Japan, where child-rearing and homemaking are still viewed as women’s tasks, mothers are still considered to be primarily responsible for children. Women whose marriages break down often end up as single mothers.
Joint custody has become a divisive issue in Japan because of concerns that it would be more difficult to protect victims of domestic violence.
Chiang’s Japanese lawyer, Aiko Ohbuchi, said Chiang won a court decision on July 20 ordering Fukuhara to return the child to him in Taiwan immediately.
The next day, Chiang’s side asked the court to enforce the order. However, the Taiwanese player said he hoped Fukuhara would hand over their son, out of worry that such a process may hurt the boy’s feelings.
Ohbuchi said Fukuhara and the son’s whereabouts are unknown and Chiang is worried that he may never get to see their son again. However, the lawyer said that Chiang wouldn’t give up and his side may eventually have to consider filing a criminal complaint accusing Fukuhara of child abduction if she continues to ignore the court orders.
Fukuhara’s lawyers on Wednesday issued a statement on social media urging Chiang not to reveal details of their disputes with their case in Taiwan still pending.
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