Wednesday, March 21, 2012

R.S. v. D.O., 2012 WL 874833 (N.Y.Sup.), 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 50479(U) [Italy] [State and Local Judicial Remedies]

In R.S. v. D.O., 2012 WL 874833 (N.Y.Sup.), 2012 N.Y. Slip Op. 50479(U),
Petitioner R.S. (Father) sought, inter alia, an order pursuant to Article 3 of the Hague Convention and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act directing the return to him in Italy of the parties' children, D and E .The Mother opposed the motion, and cross-moved for an order dismissing the Father's petition. The Court granted the father’s Petition and denied the cross motion.
The parties were never married. The Father was an Italian citizen, and the
Mother was a citizen of the United States. They met in Rome, Italy in or about
2003. The Father was a medical doctor and dentist, licensed to practice in Italy.
He resided and worked in Rome. The parties' first child was born in New York on
July 18, 2006, while the Mother was visiting her family here. Both children were
Italian citizens. Shortly after D was born, the Father joined the Mother and D, and they returned to Italy, where they resided together. Their second child, E, was born on July 26, 2008 in Rome, Italy. Both children attended preschool, and had friends, extended family, and their primary care physician in Rome. Although the parties and their children sometimes visited New York, frequently staying with friends in New York City, they resided in Italy since the children were born. In or about 2010, the parties' relationship deteriorated, and the Father moved out of their home in Rome and into an apartment nearby. He later moved to a home on the same property as the Mother and children. After the parties separated, they shared time equally with the children. In winter 2011, the parties became involved in custody litigation in Italy, and attended mediation. On or about November 14, 2011, however, the Mother took the children to New York. The parties had discussed the Mother taking the children to Florida for the upcoming Christmas holiday with the children, and returning to Italy by December 26 to spend time with their Father and his family. However, they had not agreed on a departure date, and the Father was alarmed when he found the Mother and children had disappeared, without a word from the Mother. The Mother claimed that the Father hit her on one occasion, but did not specify the date, time, location, or any other details about this allegation. She also alleged that the Father did not put the children in car seats when he drove with them, and that he used cocaine. The Husband denied these claims, noting that he was subject to periodic drug testing for compliance with various licenses and permits required by his profession. He submitted copies of two drug tests taken on May 10, 2010 and January 25, 2012. Although the tests were not translated into English, they appeared to be hair follicle test results showing a negative result for
cocaine.
On November 15, 2011, the Mother obtained an ex parte temporary order of
protection from the Suffolk County Family Court, which directed the Father to stay
away from her and from the children . On November 16, 2011, the Mother filed custody petitions in Suffolk County Family Court, in which she alleged that her and the children's address was in Commack, New York. Her petitions further alleged that each of the children resided at both that address with her and at the Father's address in Italy from birth. By order dated November 16, 2011, the Mother's custody petitions were dismissed based on a lack of "home state" jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, and a finding that the Mother and children had resided in Italy since October 2006, and had been in New York for only a matter of days at the time the petitions were filed. On December 22, 2011, the Father filed his Petition and Motion. Because he did not know where the children were staying, he filed in New York
County, since the parties had stayed in Manhattan when they had visited New York
together, and because he understood from a mutual friend, whose affidavit was
attached to the Father's reply papers, that the Mother had been seen in Manhattan.
The Father had sought assistance from the Deputy Counsel to the Consulate General in Italy, who contacted the maternal grandmother, who would not provide any information about the Mother's or the children's whereabouts.
Supreme Court observed that pursuant to 42 U.S. C. 11603(a), the court had original and concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal courts to enforce the Hague Convention (citing People ex rel. Geiser v. Valentine, 17 Misc.3d 1117A [Sup Ct Richmond Co 2007] ). An affirmation submitted by the Husband's Italian counsel stated that under Italian law, both parents jointly exercise parental authority by operation of law, absent an agreement or order to the contrary. The Supreme Court held that the finding in the November Family Court Order that Italy was the children's home country was now res judicata. It was undisputed that the children had resided in Italy their entire lives, that the Father exercised his joint parental rights with the Mother on a regular basis prior to the children's removal, and that the Mother removed the children from Italy with the intention to remain in New York with them, and without the Father's consent, on or about November 13, 2011. Therefore, the children were wrongfully removed from their home country .The court found that the Mother had also failed to make a prima facie case that returning the children to Italy would pose a grave risk to them of physical harm or otherwise place them in an intolerable situation (citing Geiser, supra ).
The Mother did not base her request that the court decline jurisdiction to hear the Father's Petition on any exception to the Convention's and/or ICARA's requirement that the children be returned to Italy. She claimed that "the children were not residing in New York County when the Petition was filed. " The Court found that the children's only residence, as a matter of law pursuant to the November Family Court Order, and as was undisputed by the Mother, was Rome, Italy. It was not clear where the Mother's residence was. In order for a particular venue "to qualify as a residence a party must stay there for some length of time and have the bona fide intent to retain the place as a residence with at least some degree of permanency'" ( Bennet v. Bennet, 49 AD3d 949, 949-950 [3d Dept 2008][quoting Hammerman v. Louis Watch Co., 7 A.D.2d 817, 818 [3d Dept 1958]]; see also Neu v. St. John's Episcopal Hospital, 27 AD3d 538 [2d Dept 2006] ). The Mother did not clearly state where she had lived since she left Italy, and she did not state an intent to remain in any particular place. Accordingly, the Court found that she did not establish that her residence was Suffolk County either.
The Mother argued that the court should decline jurisdiction based on
improper venue. CPLR 503 states that, where neither party is a resident of the State of New York, as was the case here, venue shall be "in any county designated by the plaintiff." Furthermore, where a party wishes to move venue to a more convenient location, she must serve a written demand prior to seeking a change of venue by motion (CPLR 511[b] ). The Mother had never done so, and had failed to state any reason why Suffolk County would be a more convenient venue. The Mother also argued that the Father's Petition should be brought in Suffolk County because she filed petitions in Suffolk County Family Court for custody, paternity, and an order of protection. However, the Court found most relevant of these petitions to this Petition was the custody proceeding, and that proceeding was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Temporary Order of Protection was issued without the Father's presence in court and without any findings being made. Accordingly, that was not a basis for the Father's Petition to be transferred to Suffolk County. In addition, dismissal of the Father's Petition, or transfer of it to Suffolk County, would only serve to frustrate the purposes of the Convention and ICARA, which require courts to act quickly to return children to their place of habitual residence, where custody disputes may be determined by a court that has jurisdiction to decide such matters. The Father could have brought, and still could bring, his Petition in Federal Court, in which case the Mother might have had to travel to New York City to litigate in any event, since the federal courthouse for the Eastern District of New York is located in Brooklyn. The Mother's cross-motion to dismiss the Father's Petition was denied and the court granted the petition.

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