US-Japan custody battle

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. Just about any custody dispute is heart-wrenching, for the parents and the children. But here's a case that's especially difficult.
It involves a Tennessee man, his Japanese ex-wife, and their two children. The father is currently in jail in Japan for trying to get his kids back. Akiko Fujita reports from Tokyo.

AKIKO FUJITA: Christopher Savoie says he always feared his ex-wife Noriko might take their children to Japan. In an interview with WTVF in Tennessee, Savoie said she threatened that more than once. So when their 8 year-old son and 6 year-old daughter didn't show up for their first day of school, he called his ex-wife's parents in Japan.

CHRISTOPHER SAVOIE: I said "What do you mean don't worry? They weren't at school." "Oh, don't worry they're here." I said, "They're what? They're what? They're in Japan?"

FUJITA: A few weeks ago, Savoie flew to the city of Fukuoka. Police there say Savoie snatched his two children as they walked to their Japanese school with their mother. He put them in his car, and drove to the US consulate to get passports for them, but police caught up and arrested him for kidnapping.

TADASHI YOSHINO: [speaking Japanese]

FUJITA: Christopher's Japanese lawyer says his client acted as a loving father. He doesn't feel like he did anything wrong, but he now faces up to seven years in jail. Technically, Christopher Savoie has custody of the kids. The Savoies lived in Japan until last year. A US court awarded the mother custody after the couple moved to Tennessee and divorced earlier this year. But when Noriko Savoie took the children to Japan this summer, the court reversed and gave Christopher sole custody. The problem is Japan does not recognize that ruling. The country's not a party to the Hague Convention on child abductions, so Japan isn't obligated to return the children to Tennessee. The Savoies' case has grabbed headlines in the US, but in Japan, it hasn't made much of a splash. That's partly because it's not uncommon here for mothers to take off with their children in custody disputes.

TAMIKO NAKAMURA: [speaking Japanese]

FUJITA: Family lawyer Tamiko Nakamura says it's standard for Japanese women to take their kids back to their parents' home after a divorce or separation. And it's perfectly legal for the mother keep her children there. But if the father comes back for the kids that's considered illegal. The Savoie case isn't unique. The US government says there are more than 80 ongoing cases of American parents denied access to their children in Japan. A State Department spokesman says though the US and Japan are close partners on many issues, they hold very different points of view on this one. But that might be changing. Japan's Foreign Ministry has said that the problem is growing and that it's becoming a diplomatic issue. As for Christopher Savoie, Japanese prosecutors plan to hold him for another week while they investigate. Neither Noriko Savoie nor her lawyer could be reached for this story. For The World, I'm Akiko Fujita in Tokyo.