kids

Catherine's husband 'abducted' their two children. Now she's been shut out of their lives.

This article originally appeared in Gemma Bath’s weekly news deep dive email. You can subscribe right here.

Slowly as the weeks turned into months, Catherine Henderson’s family started to shut her out.

“My husband didn’t allow me to eat dinner with the family anymore. I wasn’t allowed to enter the children’s room. My presence wasn’t acknowledged by my husband or our children… when they did speak to me they were rude and dismissive as my husband rewarded them for this type of behaviour.

“I was portrayed as both irrelevant and annoying; I often felt like a ghost in my own home,” the 49-year-old described at a press conference in Japan in February.

WATCH: Catherine talks about her family during a press conference. Post continues after video.

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Catherine’s kids are just two of an estimated 150,000 children in Japan who lose access to one of their parents every year, due to the country’s sole custody system.

The Australian woman’s now 11 and 15-year-old were abducted by their Japanese father in 2019 and now, because of the way family law works in the country, she has effectively been shut out of their lives.

“April will be one year since the kids were taken,” Catherine told Mamamia.

“My biggest feeling is… sorry guys I can’t stop you from being in this situation. I worry about, long term, how it’s going to impact their lives and how it will impact their relationships with people in the future. I feel like I should have been able to stop it.” 

Catherine and her family
Catherine hasn't seen her kids, now aged 11 and 15, since April last year. Image: Supplied.
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What Catherine is referring to is the troubling way Japan deals with divorce and custody arrangements.

Basically, if one parent abducts their children - sole custody is almost certainly guaranteed to be awarded to that parent.

The way Catherine described it to Mamamia is: "The court will ignore all evidence as to why it [an abduction] has happened, and basically if an abduction has taken place there 'must have had a good reason for it'. If a second abduction occurs (so if Catherine went and took the children back) then that [second] abduction is illegal". 

"In Japan once one parent takes the kids, you are blocked out of their life by every Japanese institution. You are no longer a part of that family and you don’t have a right to be a part of their family. You are blocked from them. It’s like a wall goes up," she explained. "If he [my husband] remarries, his new wife is their mother. If he dies she is still their mother... once he has full custody (which Catherine says is an inevitability thanks to the unfairness of the system), I will legally be no more related to my children than you are," she said.

It was the night of her 15th wedding anniversary in 2017 when Catherine's husband first told her he wanted a divorce. After meeting in Melbourne in 1997, the couple had moved back to his native Japan together in 2003 and soon after started a family.

"When I asked him why [he wanted a divorce], his only answer was that we didn’t suit each other. Three months later he presented me with a Mutual Consent document and a signed divorce paper promising me custody of the children. I didn’t submit the documents, hoping he would change his mind about the divorce. I knew that divorce wasn’t good for children and I hoped we could make it work for them," Catherine.

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Two weeks later her husband moved out of the family home without warning, and two months later just as unexpectedly moved back in.

From that day onwards he made Catherine's life a living hell, and slowly but surely turned her children against her.

CATHERINE's KIDS
Catherine's children are currently living with their father. She has no access to them. Image: Supplied.

"They’re victims," she said. "They are like a battered woman who can’t leave an abusive husband. It’s like my husband has a gun on them under the table. It’s all psychological. At first it was only when he was there [that they'd act up against me], but overtime even when he wasn’t there they were in his prison. It’s a psychological prison that he’s put them in."

Dealing with the injustice of her situation was too hard to talk about at first - especially in Japan where people generally keep their 'family business' private.

But now, as the months drag on, Catherine is determined to make noise.

"I hope one day my kids look back and know I did my best. And never gave up.... Mummy never gave up," she told Mamamia.

You can sign Catherine's Change.org petition to stop parental child abduction in Japan here.

Feature image: Supplied. 

This article originally appeared in Gemma Bath's weekly news deep dive email. You can subscribe right here.

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