FRANKLIN, Tennessee — A friend says Noriko Savoie felt trapped — she was a Japanese citizen new to the U.S. whose American husband had just served her divorce papers.
Her disintegrating marriage likely would have ended with little notice had she not fled to Japan, where her ex-husband was arrested this week trying to get the children she took with her into the diplomatic protection of a U.S. consulate.
Noriko Savoie did not have court permission to bring the children to the country where they had spent most of their lives, and Christopher Savoie says he didn't do anything wrong when he tried to get them back.
Court records and conversations with a friend, Miiko Crafton, make it clear that Noriko Savoie was hurt and angry from the divorce and chafing at the cultural differences.
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She had no income when she moved to the U.S. in June 2008, divorce court filings show, and appears to have been totally dependent on Christopher Savoie, who was still legally her husband but was involved with another woman.
Crafton, a native of Japan who befriended Noriko Savoie during her short time in Tennessee, said her friend tried to get a divorce while the couple still lived in Japan, but her husband had refused and later persuaded her to move to the U.S. with the children.
"Everything was provided so she could begin a new lifestyle, but right after that he gave her divorce papers," Crafton said. "So basically she was trapped."
'She always looked sad'
Although financially stable — she was awarded close to $800,000 in cash as well as other support in the divorce — Noriko Savoie was not free to return to Japan. She was given primary custody of the children, but her ex-husband was also awarded time with them.
She felt mistreated by the courts and emotionally abused by her ex-husband, Crafton said.
In court, she accused Christopher Savoie of threatening to have her father jailed over a disagreement stemming from the sale of a car.
In a hostile e-mail from Christopher Savoie that was entered into the court record, he called her an "idiot" and accused her of "poisoning the children against me." He complained about the large cash payout she got and monthly support payments.
"She was very positive, but she always looked sad," Crafton said. "It was a really, really sad situation."
Meanwhile, Christopher Savoie complained that she refused to let him see the children during appointed times, screened his calls with them and insulted him and argued with him in front of them.
And, according to court records, he had an overriding fear that she would take the children to Japan, where he thought he would have little legal recourse and might never be able to see them again.
In Japan, if a couple gets divorced, one parent, almost always the mother, often gets sole custody. Divorced fathers typically have little access.
'Children have right to see both parents'
Christopher Savoie remarried in the month following the divorce, and Noriko Savoie wrote him an e-mail soon after, asking him to keep his new wife and her children away and stop criticizing their marriage.
"These things are effecting my life a lot," she wrote. "I need to stay healthy in order to stay here."
That e-mail became a key piece of evidence when Christopher Savoie unsuccessfully tried to convince the courts not to allow her to take the children to Japan on vacation.
She returned on July 30 as planned, but went back with the children just two weeks later.
Christopher Savoie was arrested by Japanese police on Monday as he tried to enter a U.S. Consulate in the southern city of Fukuoka with the 6- and 8-year-old children after snatching them away from their mother as they walked to school.
He told CNN in an interview that he wants his children to know he loves them.
"I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "Children have the right to see both parents. It's very important for my children to know both parents."
Christopher Savoie had been granted full custody of the children by an American court after Noriko Savoie abducted them, and the courts here issued a warrant for her arrest on charges of custodial interference.
Crafton said she felt sorry for Christopher Savoie but did not approve of his actions.
"If he's really thinking of the kids, he shouldn't be doing some dramatic movie-type thing like snatching the kids," Crafton said. "He could have made other arrangements. He speaks Japanese very well and has Japanese citizenship."
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