“It is evil to take the children away from loving parents, the only home they’ve ever known, and then proclaim, because we’ve landed on an airplane, that this is where they live now. My question is how long are we going to put up with this? How long are we going to allow this to happen?” ~ Daniel Larson, father involved in international custody dispute
Minnesota has become the center of two international custody battles, that represent a much larger problem happening in every state of the U.S., involving international abduction and international child-custody litigation. Cases of international custody are notoriously complicated, in many cases the laws and rights of American citizens, and their children, no longer apply – or court orders can not be enforced abroad.
In Minnesota, two fathers have been ripped from their children’s lives and forced to live in limbo between two countries, fighting to regain custody of their children who have been taken to Japan, a foreign country in which they previously had no ties to.
The first story involves Daniel Larson, a father of two children, who is a U.S. citizen while his ex-wife holds Japanese citizenship. The Larson family made their home in Hennepin County, where both children were born and raised, attended school, developed friendships, and were part of a close loving family…until an attempted international abduction, followed by an unjust family court order turned their lives upside down
Angie Banga was appointed as Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to the Larson children; this recommendation would be the last of her career. Banga is a former business partner with Jamie L. Manning, they have owned several businesses in Minnesota that involved family court services. One complaint raised about Bangas says this,“Angie tries to come across as very nice but is known to play to the courts and other attorneys so she gets more referrals. They trade business back and forth, play to the judges so they keep the gravy train flowing so everybody wins at the expense of the family.”
Both Banga and Manning have had numerous complaints raised against them by parents complaining of unprofessional conduct, and actions that unfairly robbed parents of the right to raise their children, and be a part of their lives. In many of these cases, children have been endangered or actually injured as a result of Banga and Manning’s recommendations. Angie Banga has now retired and lives in Pinellas, Florida; enjoying her life while families and children suffer as a result of her actions. Jamie L. Manning continues to work as a Guardian ad Litem, and performs side jobs in family court. The Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board has been made aware of complaints and has yet to do anything to address serious issues and allegations surrounding Manning.
In 2011, Larson’s ex-wife told him that she was quitting her job, taking the children, and moving to Akita, Japan to live with her parents. In a desperate attempt to save the marriage, and keep the family together, Larson agreed to move to Japan – with the provision that he could return to the States within 6 months to either visit or move back permanently to Minnesota.
When Larson arrived in Japan, he describes his wife’s behavior as hostile; and that she was verbally and emotionally abusive. She stole the children’s passports and hid them, and made it clear that she had no intention of remaining in the marriage any longer. Larson’s wife kept the children (who are U.S. citizens) with her. Larson was forced to navigate a foreign country all alone – while fighting to bring his children home.
After 7 agonizing months, Larson was able to obtain replacement passports and return to Minnesota with his children, where he filed for divorce. The wife tried to sue Larson for International Child Abduction – which both parents were cleared of since they are married, and there was no formal custody agreement. However, since the children had remained in Japan for over 6 months, the courts would now consider their permanent residence in Japan.
The real nightmare began when the Larson family entered family court, and Angie Banga was appointed as GAL. In August 2013, Banga decided that the Larson children needed to be raised “bilingual” and recommended the children move back to Japan. Banga’s recommendation stated Larson could either have joint custody if he moved to Japan, or would be granted visitation 8 weeks a year in Minnesota. However, in Japan, joint custody is not recognized and can not be legally enforced. Second, 8 weeks a year is not nearly enough time to appropriately parent, and be a part of a child’s life… such a recommendation amounts to court-ordered parental alienation.
The family court judge quickly sided with Banga. According to Larson, the judge stepped off the bench, and personally came to pressure him into making a deal that involved allowing the children moving to Japan, and threatened “you make a deal where the kids go to Japan or I’ll make one for you, and you won’t like the one I’ll make...” Though Larson had a formidable legal team on his side, overcoming a GAL and a judge would be difficult, if not impossible. Under duress, Larson signed a custody agreement.
In January 2014, Larson says his children were forcibly taken, in an incident that involved the judge and the police who demonstrated a show of force to uproot the children from the only life they have ever known and whisk them across the world.
Larson says he has made efforts to abide by the court order, and remain in the lives of his children, as best as he can under this very difficult situation. The cost of legal litigation has taken a devastating financial toll, as has flying across the world to see his children. Larson lost the house he owned in Minnesota and now spends all of his earnings to afford visits to Japan, the support of family and friends has helped him to survive. Larson has captured many of these visits on video to keep his children close when they are apart, how fast children grow up… especially when they live a world away and with each passing day, their former life becomes more of a passing memory.
Daniel Larson shares his story online at:
In a second case, from St. Louis Park, father, James Cook, is involved in an international custody dispute with Hitomi Arimitsu, wife, involving 4 children.
In July 2014, the marriage hit a rocky point so Cook and family took a vacation to Japan to take a needed break. Cook went home first, with the understanding that Arimitsu would visit her family then return with the children. What was supposed to be a six week visit turned into a tumultuous international custody battle – for the last two years, Cook has not had contact with his children.
When Cook filed for divorce in a Minnesota court, he was granted temporary custody. Arimitsu has refused to abide by the order, which left her in contempt of Minnesota and Japanese courts.
In February 2017, Arimitsu won custody through a court in Osaka, claiming Cook did not have the ability to care for the children in Minnesota, and their lives would be in “grave danger” if returned to his care. Cook denies the allegations and says he will continue to fight for the return of his children.
Read More on James Cook’s story: