Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Hofmann v Sender,--- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 1955846 (C.A.2) [Canada] [Habitual Residence] [Consent or Acquiesence]
In Hofmann v Sender,--- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 1955846 (C.A.2) the Petitioner–Appellee father initiated proceedings for return of his children to Canada. petitioner Adam Hofmann was a Canadian citizen. He was born, raised, educated, and continued to work in Montreal, Quebec. He was not a citizen of, nor did he have a visa to work in any other country. Respondent Abigail Sender was a United States citizen. She was born and raised in the United States and attended medical school beginning in 1999 at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She was formerly a permanent resident of Canada. At one time she applied for, but never received, Canadian citizenship. Hofmann and Sender met and began dating while they were residing in Montreal and serving as medical residents at McGill. Both parties earned medical degrees that were recognized as the equivalent of a comparable degree in the United States. Hofmann, however, was unable to work in the United States due to his immigration status. In Montreal, the parties attended the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. They were married there in February 2008 and lived together in Montreal as husband and wife until May or June of 2011. Their first son, R, was born in Montreal in January, 2009. After the baby's birth, Sender traveled to New York so that her family could help her care for the child. Id. In the fall of 2009, Hofmann took two months of unpaid leave in order to spend time with his wife and child at the home of his in-laws in New York. Id. At that time, Hofmann and Sender discussed their marital difficulties, including problems they were having with their families. They also discussed the possibility of having a second child and of relocating outside of Canada. Id. They took various trips to communities in New York and New Jersey in order to see whether any would make a suitable future home. They were particularly concerned about finding an Orthodox Jewish community where they could raise their family. The wife retained the children in New York on September 5, 2012,
The district court concluded that the parties' children were habitually resident in Canada; and although Hofmann had consented to the children's removal to the United States, that consent was a conditional one, contingent on his accompanying them and residing with them and Sender as a family in the United States. The district court found, therefore, that the parties' last shared intent with respect to the children's residence was for the children to reside in Canada. (citing Mota v. Castillo, 692 F.3d 108 (2d Cir.2012)). The district court also concluded that the children had not become so acclimated to New York that a return to Canada would be harmful to them,, and because the wrongful retention of the children under the Hague Convention occurred on September 5, 2012, when Sender had Hofmann served with divorce papers, the affirmative defense that the children were well settled in the United States did not apply. The district court also found that the affirmative defenses of consent and acquiescence did not apply. The court granted Hofmann's petition and ordered that the children be returned to Canada, enabling the Canadian courts to determine issues of parental custody. Subsequently, the Quebec Superior Court, Family Division issued an order granting temporary sole custody to the Respondent–Appellant Sender and directing that the children be returned to New York. A further hearing is scheduled in Montreal on May 23, 2013. The Quebec Superior Court awarded Petitioner–Appellee Hofmann visitation and phone access rights.
On appeal, the parties did not dispute that Hofmann had custody rights under Quebec law, which he was exercising at the time the children were retained by Sender. To determine which country is a child's country of habitual residence under the Hague Convention, the Second Circuit applied the two-part test set forth in Gitter v. Gitter. There it held that: "First, the court should inquire into the shared intent of those entitled to fix the child's residence (usually the parents) at the latest time that their intent was shared. In making this determination the court should look, as always in determining intent, at actions as well as declarations. Normally the shared intent of the parents should control the habitual residence of the child. Second, the court should inquire whether the evidence unequivocally points to the conclusion that the child has acclimatized to the new location and thus has acquired a new habitual residence, notwithstanding any conflict with the parents' latest shared intent." Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134.
Here, the district court determined, that the last shared intent of the parties was that the children would reside in Canada. Correlatively, the court also found that at the time the parties were transitioning from Montreal to New York, Hofmann only intended the children to reside habitually in New York if he was also resident in New York with his children and his wife, as a family. The district court's decision was amply supported by the record, Turning to the law applicable to the resolution of this issue on appeal it observed that in Mota it considered whether the father's retention of a child was wrongful under the Hague Convention when the mother's consent to the child coming to the United States was conditional, based on the mother's also being able to join the child and the father in this country. In that case the child, Elena Mota, lived with her mother in Mexico until approximately the age of three. Mota, 692 F.3d at 110. When Elena was six months old, her father had entered the United States illegally to find work. In the spring of 2010 the family decided to attempt to reunite in New York. Id. The plan was to pay to have Elena smuggled across the border. Id. The mother would then attempt to cross the border herself, and mother and child would travel together to New York. Id. Elena was successfully smuggled into the United States, but her mother was unable to cross the border. Id. Elena was reunited with her father, who proceeded to keep her in New York. He subsequently took up residence with another woman, and he stopped sending money to Mexico to support Elena's mother. Elena's father then refused to return her to Mexico, and her mother filed a petition pursuant to Article 3 of the Convention seeking her return. On appeal, it held that the record supported the district court's determination that the mother's consent to Elena's remaining in New York was conditioned on the mother, father and Elena's living in New York together. Acknowledging the effect of the unmet condition precedent, it affirmed the district court's determination that the last shared intent of the parents regarding Elena's residence was that she live in Mexico. For purposes of the Convention, therefore, Mexico was the "State in which the child was habitually resident." Hague Convention Art. 3.
The decision in Mota directly controlled the outcome in this case. As the district court found, "the petitioner has demonstrated by his testimony and his actions that he intended for the children to relocate to New York on the condition that he would join the household and continue to be the father to his children and the husband to his wife." Just as in Mota, "if the parents [here] did not agree that [the children] would live indefinitely in ... [the United States] regardless of [their father's] presence, it cannot be said that the parents ‘shared an intent’ " that New York would be the children's "state of habitual residence." Mota, 692 F.3d at 115. The district court properly determined under the Convention that the parties' last shared intention regarding the children's residence was that they live in Canada and for that reason the habitual residence of the children remained in Canada.
Turning to the second prong of the Gitter analysis, having concluded that the children were properly determined to be habitually resident in Canada, the court "inquire whether the evidence unequivocally points to the conclusion that the child has acclimatized to the new location and thus has acquired a new habitual residence, notwithstanding any conflict with the parents' last shared intent." Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134. "[C]ourts should be ‘slow to infer’ that the child's acclimatization trumps the parents' shared intent." Id. As it noted in Mota, "[i]t would frustrate the objectives of the Convention if a parent or guardian could secure an advantage in an anticipated custody dispute merely by whisking the child away to a foreign land, and retaining her there long enough to amass evidence of the child's acclimatization to the new location." A finding that this standard is satisfied is therefore only appropriate "in ‘relatively rare circumstances' in which a child's degree of acclimatization is ‘so complete that serious harm ... can be expected to result from compelling his [or her] return to the family's intended residence." Id. It was clear that the children had not become so acclimatized to life in New York that returning them to Canada would be tantamount to removing them from the environment where their lives had developed. While, at this point, the children had resided in New York for over a year, they moved and changed communities within New York recently. There was no basis to conclude that the district court clearly erred in finding that the children were not so acclimatized to life in the United States that a return to Canada would be harmful to them.
Article 13 of the Convention provides that "the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if ... the person ... having care of the person of the child ... consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention." The court found that although Hofmann initially consented to the children's removal to the United States, that consent was conditioned upon his accompanying them and residing in this country as a family with his children and wife. "Article 13(a) does not provide that if a parent consents to removal of the child for a period, under certain conditions or circumstances, that retention of the child beyond those conditions or circumstances is necessarily permissible." Because the condition on which Hofmann consented to his children moving to the United States was not met, there was no basis to conclude that he consented to Sender's retention of the children in the United States. The potential defense under Article 13 of the Convention had no application to the facts of this case.
Sender's reliance on the "now settled" exception contained in Article 12 of the Convention was similarly unavailing. Article 12 provides, in relevant part, that: Where a child has been wrongfully removed or retained in terms of Article 3 and, at the date of the commencement of the proceedings before the judicial or administrative authority of the Contracting State where the child is, a period of less than one year has elapsed from the date of the wrongful removal or retention, the authority concerned shall order the return of the child forthwith.
The judicial or administrative authority, even where the proceedings have been commenced after the expiration of the period of one year referred to in the preceding paragraph, shall also order the return of the child, unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment. By its terms, the "now settled" exception only applies where the child has been in the destination state for more than one year from the date of the wrongful removal or retention. The date of wrongful retention in this case was September 5, 2012, Because one year had not elapsed between the wrongful retention of the children and the institution of these proceedings under the convention, the district court's determination that the "now settled" exception did not apply was affirmed.