Japanese courts rule Minnesota children will stay in Japan

A Japanese court ruled Friday that Minnesota-born children in the middle of an international custody dispute can remain in Japan.

James Cook and Hitomi Arimitsu have been arguing over whether Japan or the United States is the home country of their four children.

The couple's case has wound for more than two years through the courts of Japan. Friday's ruling overturns earlier legal action that established the United States as children's official residence.

In July 2014, Arimitsu, a Japanese citizen, took the couple's four children — two sets of twins aged 8 and 13 — on a vacation to Japan. The couple had been working through a difficult patch in their relationship, and agreed that a six-week trip to visit their grandparents in Japan would be a good break for the children and their mother.

More than two years later, Arimitsu and the children still haven't returned to the United States, and she and Cook have been battling in the courts for their children's custody.

The Hague Convention, an international agreement signed by Japan and the United States, allowed Cook access to the Japanese court system. The court ruled in January 2015 that the children should return to Minnesota. Meanwhile, that same year, Cook filed for a divorce from Arimitsu through the Hennepin County Courts system. A judge there granted him temporary custody of the children as part of the process.

Since then, Arimitsu has refused to return the children to the United States, which has left her in contempt of the Japanese and Minnesota court orders.

Friday's decision overturns the Japanese court's 2015 ruling. The Osaka District Court Friday agreed with a petition filed by Arimitsu last month, in which she wrote she could not return the children to Minnesota because Cook had no way to pay for their housing or schooling. That, she wrote, "would be a grave risk of harm to the children if they were returned to the U.S."

The court found that Cook lacked the resources to support all four children — but his attorney, Victoria Taylor, argues that the reversal isn't in line with The Hague Convention.

"This is going to become an international incident," she said.

Taylor said she and her client plan to contact the U.S. State Department to see what sanctions can be leveraged against Japan to ensure the children's return.

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