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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ramirez v Buyauskas, 2012 WL 606746 (E.D.Pa.) [Mexico] ["patria potestas] [well-settled in New Environment] [Wishes of the Child]

In Ramirez v Buyauskas, 2012 WL 606746 (E.D.Pa.) the District Court denied the Petition for return of his three children, filed by Francisco Javier Montes Ramirez, a Mexican citizen. The Petition was filed on October 13, 2011. Petitioner was a Mexican national who resided in Zapopan, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Around 1992, while visiting his sister in Philadelphia, petitioner met respondent at a party. Respondent, a United States citizen, moved to Mexico to live with petitioner approximately three months after they met. They married in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on August 23, 1997 and had three children together: Francisco Javier, Junior, born January 7, 2000, age twelve ("Paco" or "Paquito") (referred to as "Paquito"); Kate Alexis, born August 14, 2003, age eight ("Katie"); and Chelsey Megan, born March 3, 2009, age two. All three children were born in the United States and were United States citizens, but, with the exception of some visits to relatives in the greater Philadelphia area, they never resided in the United States before August 2010. In Mexico, Paquito was most recently enrolled in fifth grade, and Katie was in second grade; Chelsey was too young for school. The children attended a large public school at which the school day lasted four hours. The children received inadequate medical care in Mexico because the family
lacked medical insurance. In Mexico, the children did not have regular doctors or dentists, and they only were able to see a doctor when they were sick. After Paquito arrived in the United States, respondent learned that Paquito had contracted a latent form of tuberculosis in Mexico that required nine months of antibiotic treatment.
As of June 2010, respondent had recently reconnected with her biological
father, Richard Buyauskas, who lived in Houston, Texas, after an extensive period
during which they did not communicate. On about June 11, 2010, Richard Buyauskas purchased airline tickets for respondent, Paquito, Katie, and Chelsey. The airline tickets were for round-trip travel between Guadalajara, Mexico, and Houston, Texas. Respondent and the children were to leave Mexico on July 12, 2010, and to return to Mexico on September 3, 2010. Petitioner believed that respondent was planning to travel to the United States with the children in July 2010 "[t]o visit her father, her new father, to travel here to Philadelphia to visit her mother, and to return to Mexico" on September 3, 2010. Petitioner had "a concern" about the trip because he was worried that respondent and the children might not return. Respondent had told him that she wanted the family to move to the United States, but petitioner was hesitant to agree because respondent was just reconnecting with her biological father. The Court found that Petitioner did not consent to respondent and the children moving to the
United States permanently in July 2010. Petitioner executed a document that gave respondent permission to travel outside of Mexico with the children. Respondent did not seek permission from a court to remove the children from Mexico before leaving.
On July 12, 2010, petitioner drove respondent and the children, who had only
some of their belongings with them, to the airport. Among those belongings were legal documents, including the children's birth certificates and the parties' marriage certificate. . On July 12, 2010, respondent and the children traveled from Mexico to Houston, Texas, where they stayed with Richard Buyauskas for about a month. Respondent called petitioner from Richard Buyauskas's house about a week after leaving Mexico and informed him that she intended to remain in the United States with the children permanently. Respondent told petitioner that he could not "follow them or do anything because she's in the United States and that she has
the support of her whole family." Petitioner tried to encourage respondent to return to Mexico with the children. After receiving respondent's phone call, petitioner began seeking legal assistance to regain custody.
The Court concluded that the wrongful retention in this case began on the date
July 25 when respondent called petitioner from Houston, Texas, and told him that she intended to remain in the United States with the children permanently. After the telephone call, petitioner understood that respondent did not intend to bring the children back to Mexico, he informed her that he wanted her to return, and he contacted the Mexican Secretariat to learn what legal remedies were available to him. It also found that prior to July 25, 2010, the children's habitual residence was Mexico. Before the wrongful retention, the children habitually resided in Mexico with petitioner and respondent for the children's entire lives, interrupted only by vacations to the United States. Petitioner did not consent to a permanent move to the United States; instead, he believed that respondent and the children were traveling to the United States for a vacation that was to end on September 3, 2010, with a return flight from Houston to Guadalajara. "Where the child's initial move from an established habitual residence was clearly intended to be for a specific, limited duration ... most courts will find no change in habitual residence," unless "the child's original habitual residence has been effectively abandoned by the shared intent of the parents."Whiting, 391 F.3d 549.There was no such shared intent in this case; petitioner never agreed for the children to reside in the United States, nor had he abandoned his desire for the children to return to Mexico. The Court concluded that the children's habitual residence prior to July 5, 2010, was Mexico and that petitioner and respondent had no "present, shared intention" for the children to reside in the United States. The Court therefore looked to the child custody laws of the state of Jalisco, Mexico, where the family resided prior to July 2010, to determine whether respondent breached petitioner's custody rights. The Court observed that custody law in Mexico is based on the concept of "patria potestas" (also
spelled "patria potestad"), which is: "The parents' responsibility to care for the child, reside with the child, and provide for the child's necessities, including food, education and development."The patria potestas gives a right to correct the child, the right
to control and manage any property or rights the child may have and the right to
the child's assistance. By law, the right to patria potestas belongs to both parents, but the exercise of the right, by necessity, normally involves one decision-maker. Concurrence or agreement is not required. Historically, the father had superior rights of the patria potestas, but today it is a joint responsibility. If the parents are deceased or unavailable, the paternal grandparents may exercise the patria potestas. If the paternal grandparents are unavailable, the maternal grandparents may exercise the patria potestas. March v. Levine, 136 F.Supp.2d 831, 842 (M.D.Tenn.2000) In Jalisco, Mexico, patria potestas "governs the relationship between parents and their children" as part of the CCEJ. Patria potestas 'is exerted by both parents,' ( [CCEJ Art.] 581), and lasts until it ceases under Article 597, is terminated under Article 598, or is suspended under Article 601." The Court concludedthat petitioner had custody rights under CCEJ Article 581 and that those rights had not been abrogated by any other CCEJ provision. Under Article 581, which provides that "[ p]aternal
authority/responsibility (patria potestas) is exerted by both parents or in the given case, by the surviving parent," petitioner had custody rights over all three children unless one of the three exceptions-cessation under Article 597, termination under Article 598, or suspension under Article 601-applied. No such exception was applicable here. Article 597 provides that patria potestas ceases in the event of the parent's death, "emancipation of the minor," the
minor's reaching the age of majority, or the revocation of an adoption. None of
these have occurred. Article 598 states that patria potestas "can" be terminated
in certain circumstances, but only by a judicial decree at the conclusion of a
criminal, civil, or divorce case. See CCEJ Article 599. Likewise, Article 601
requires "a judicially pronounced lack of capacity," "a judicially pronounced absence," or "a guilty verdict that imposes the suspension [of patria potestas] as part of the sentence."In this case, neither party introduced any evidence that, at any time, there have been any Mexican court orders bearing on the custody of the children or on petitioner's fitness as a parent. Therefore, petitioner had custody rights as to his three children under the law of Jalisco, Mexico, before respondent retained the children in the United States.
The Court further concluded that respondent breached petitioner's custody
rights under the law of Jalisco when she retained the children in the United
States. Under the doctrine of patria potestas, both parents must consent to the
removal of the child from the country. Because he established that respondent breached his custody rights under the law of the children's habitual residence-that is, Jalisco, Mexico-the third prong of the prima facie case was satisfied. The fourth element of a prima facie case under the Hague Convention is "whether the petitioner was exercising his or her custody rights at the time of removal or retention. The petitioner can show the exercise of custody rights by demonstrating that he or she kept or sought to keep[ ] some sort of regular contact with the child. Essentially, nothing short of clear and unequivocal abandonment will prove that the petitioner failed to exercise his or her custodial rights."Once it is
determined that a party had valid custody rights under the country of origin's
laws ... [t]he applicant need only provide some preliminary evidence that he or
she actually exercised custody of the child, for instance, took physical care of
the child. This element was satisfied. Petitioner lived with the children and cared for
them until they left Mexico with respondent in July 2010. Although the Court did
not credit petitioner's testimony that he was the de facto sole caretaker of the
children, the Court found that petitioner shared the responsibilities of childcare
with respondent while they lived together in Mexico. The Court concluded that petitioner has established all four elements of a prima facie case for return of a child under the Hague Convention. Nevertheless, the court found that the Article 12 "well settled" and the Article 13 "mature child objecting" affirmative defenses applied in this case.
Respondent and the children resided in Pennsylvania since late August 2010,
and petitioner knew where they were; he even communicated with them while they
were at respondent's mother's house. Although petitioner was diligent in contacting the Mexican authorities for assistance, the delay of more than fourteen months before petitioner filed this case was not attributable to concealment of the children by respondent. The Court was sympathetic to petitioner in that it took him time to gather the documents to complete the Hague Applications and the CI and Secretariat took many months to process the applications. However, precedent does not authorize tolling based on bureaucratic foot-dragging; instead, tolling is appropriate "where the parent removing the child has secreted the child from the parent seeking return," obstructing the noncustodial parent seeking return from filing suit in the appropriate jurisdiction. Furnes v. Reeves, 362 F.3d 702, 723-24 (11th Cir.2004). Because respondent did not conceal the children's location from petitioner, the Court concluded that equitable tolling was not appropriate. Thus, the Article 12 well-settled defense was available to respondent.
In concluding that the well-settled exception applied, one district court in
this circuit considered the following factors: (1) the age of the child; (2) the stability of the child's new residence; (3) whether the child attends school or daycare consistently; (4) whether the child attends church regularly; (5) the stability of the [parent's] employment or other means of support; (6) whether the child has friends and relatives in the area; ... (7) to what extent the child has maintained ties to the country of habitual residence ... [8] the level of parental involvement in the child's life[;][9] active measures to conceal [the] child's whereabouts (and the possibility of criminal prosecution related thereto) [;] and [10] the immigration status of the child and respondent. Castillo, 597 F.Supp.2d at 438 (citing, inter alia, Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927, 946 (11th Cir.1998); In re Koc, 181 F.Supp.2d 136, 153 (E.D.N.Y.2001)). The court considered the evidence of these factors which overwhelmingly showed that all three children were well settled in the United States. The evidence introduced at the hearing and the Court's in camera interviews with the children demonstrated that Paquito and Katie wereintelligent children of remarkable maturity. They spoke English fluently and
eloquently despite having lived in the United States for less than seventeen months. In addition to respondent's testimony that all three children were "doing great," the Court found credible respondent's mother's testimony that the children's adjustment to the United States was "impressive" and respondent's brother's testimony that the children were doing "extremely well." The Castillo factors also uniformly supported the Court's conclusion.
The Court also concluded that respondent had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that return was not appropriate because Katie and Paquito "object[ ] to being returned and ha[ve] attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of [their] views." Convention Art. 13. The Court concluded that both Paquito and Katie objected to being returned to Mexico and were old enough and mature enough for their views to be given credence. The Court further concluded that neither child's desire to remain in the United States was "the product of undue influence." The Court took Paquito's and Katie's views into account because both children were articulate, intelligent, and mature. Both demonstrated extraordinary composure and behavior throughout these adversarial legal proceedings. In circumstances that would be expected to unnerve most children their age-including, in Paquito's case, testifying in federal district court and being subject to cross-examination-Paquito and Katie remained unflappable. During Paquito's open-court testimony and the children's in camera interviews, both made extremely favorable impressions. The evidence introduced at the hearings-including that Paquito and Katie had learned fluent English in less than two years, that both
were on the honor roll, and that they had impressed respondent's family with their adaptation to the United States-further supported the Court's conclusion that they were "of sufficient age and maturity" for their views to receive consideration. See Art. 13. Paquito objected to being returned to Mexico in open court, and both children objected during their in camera interviews with the Court, away from respondent and her family. Paquito and Katie gave articulate, rational explanations as to why they wanted to stay in the United States; Katie cited the higher quality of life, including the family's greater ability to afford food, and Paquito expressed concern about his father's "violent" nature and use of a belt to discipline him . Given their coherent explanations, their mature comportment, their clear and forthright
statements that they wished to remain in the United States, and the fact that their
desire to stay persisted even when the Court questioned them further about whether
anyone told them how to answer the Court's questions, the Court concluded that the children's preferences were not the product of undue influence. Accordingly, the Court also concluded that the mature-child-objecting defense justified permitting the children to remain in the United States.