Dad’s Custody Dilemma
A Tennessee man who was arrested in Japan after trying to get back his own abducted children back has been awarded $6.1 million from his ex-wife in U.S. courts.
The record award stems from an incident where Christopher Savoie’s Japanese ex-wife, Noriko Esaki Savoie, left Tennessee with her two young children to live permanently in Japan even though her American husband had joint custody rights. After Noriko Savoie moved the children to Japan, a Williamson County court gave her husband Christopher Savoie full custody. The Franklin Police Department then issued an arrest warrant for Mrs. Savoie charging her with custodial interference. Unfortunately, the arrest order had no authority because Japan has not signed any international treaties governing child abduction. Japan will not help resolve parental abductions due to existing domestic laws pertaining to custody and divorce. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues concurred and reported that it does not know of any cases resolved through a favorable Japanese court order or through the assistance of the Japanese government.
The incident gained international press attention when a desperate Mr. Savoie made an unsuccessful attempt to grab his kids off the street in Japan and he landed in jail there for three weeks instead. It all started just six months into their marriage when Noriko said she wanted to take the children on a trip to Japan before they started back at school.
Christopher Savoie’s family became a bit suspicious after they noticed that Noriko had not booked a return flight for the trip. When it became apparent that she had intention or returning, Mr. Savoie flew to Japan and tracked his wife children to the small town of Yanagawa. He waited until they went to school and grabbed them with the intent of seeking safety at a local U.S. embassy. Things did not go as planned at the embassy however, Mr. Savoie found the doors locked and the Japanese police quickly swooped in and arrested him.
Returning to the U.S. after three weeks in a Japanese jail, Mr. Savoie went back to court where Noriko was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and an arrest warrant was issued. Noriko Savoie was found guilty of three crimes and the Williamson County Chancery Court ordered her to pay Christopher Savoie $1 million for breach of contract and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. She was then ordered to pay Christopher Savoie an additional $1.1 million, to be held for the children, on the charge of falsely imprisoning them since August 2009. The court then ordered Noriko to pay additional damages for each day she continues to falsely imprison the children up to a maximum of $4 million. Adding all the penalties together translates to $6.1 million in damages.
Christopher Savoie’s attorney, Joseph Woodruff, said that even though Japan will not enforce U.S. judgments that pertain to child custody, they will sometimes enforce money judgments and that he will “Try to convince Noriko Savoie she needs to do the right thing.” Woodruff said he has lawyers working in Japan to get the U.S. court orders accepted. In the meantime, an unhappy Christopher Savoie said he would rather not seek a large money judgment against his ex-wife, but hopes it will at least get her to talk to him.