New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook
The by Joel R. Brandes is available in Bookstores and online in the print edition , . It is also available and for all ebook readers in our bookstore. The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook is divided into five parts: (1) Preliminary Matters Prior to the Commencement of Trial, Conduct of Trial and Rules of Evidence Particularly Applicable in Matrimonial Matters; (2); Establishing Grounds for Divorce, Separation and Annulment and Defenses; (3) Obtaining Maintenance, Child Support, Exclusive Occupancy and Counsel Fees; (4) Property Distribution and Evidence of Value; and (5) Trial of a Custody Case. There are thousands of suggested questions for the examination and cross-examination of witnesses dealing with very aspect of the matrimonial trial. Click and
The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook was reviewed by Bernard Dworkin, Esq., in the New York Law Journal on December 21, 2017. His review is reprinted on our website at with the permission of the New York Law Journal.
Joel R. Brandes, is the author of Law and The Family New York, 2d (9 volumes) (Thomson Reuters), and Law and the Family New York Forms (5 volumes) (Thomson Reuters). Law and the Family New York, 2d is a treatise and a procedural guide. Volume 4A of the treatise contains more than 950 pages devoted to an analysis of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. It contains a complete discussion of the cases construing the Convention which have been decided by the United States Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts of Appeal, the District Courts, and the New York Courts.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Chafin v Chafin, --- S.Ct. ----, 2013 WL 598436 (U.S.) [Scotland][ Federal & State Judicial Remedies - Appeals - Mootness]
In Chafin v Chafin, --- S.Ct. ----, 2013 WL 598436 (U.S.) Petitioner Jeffrey Lee Chafin was a citizen of the United States and a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army. While stationed in Germany in 2006, he married respondent Lynne Hales Chafin, a citizen of the United Kingdom. Their daughter E.C. was born the following year. Later in 2007, Mr. Chafin was deployed to Afghanistan, and Ms. Chafin took E.C. to Scotland. Mr. Chafin was eventually transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, and in February 2010, Ms. Chafin traveled to Alabama with E.C. Soon thereafter, Mr. Chafin filed for divorce and for child custody in Alabama state court. Towards the end of the year, Ms. Chafin was arrested for domestic violence, an incident that alerted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to the fact that she had overstayed her visa. She was deported in February 2011, and E.C. remained in Mr. Chafin's care for several more months. In May 2011, Ms. Chafin initiated this case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. She filed a petition under the Convention and ICARA seeking an order for E. C.'s return to Scotland. On October 11 and 12, 2011, the District Court held a bench trial. Upon the close of arguments, the court ruled in favor of Ms. Chafin, concluding that E. C.'s country of habitual residence was Scotland and granting the petition for return. Mr. Chafin immediately moved for a stay pending appeal, but the court denied his request. Within hours, Ms. Chafin left the country with E. C., headed for Scotland. By December 2011, she had initiated custody proceedings there. The Scottish court soon granted her interim custody and a preliminary injunction, prohibiting Mr. Chafin from removing E.C. from Scotland. In the meantime, Mr. Chafin had appealed the District Court order to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In February 2012, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Mr. Chafin's appeal as moot in a one-paragraph order, citing Bekier v. Bekier, 248 F.3d 1051 (2001). In Bekier, the Eleventh Circuit had concluded that an appeal of a Convention return order was moot when the child had been returned to the foreign country, because the court "became powerless" to grant relief. 248 F.3d, at 1055. In accordance with Bekier, the Court of Appeals remanded this case to the District Court with instructions to dismiss the suit as moot and vacate its order. On remand, the District Court did so, and also ordered Mr. Chafin to pay Ms. Chafin over $94,000 in court costs, attorney's fees, and travel expenses. Meanwhile, the Alabama state court had dismissed the child custody proceeding initiated by Mr. Chafin for lack of jurisdiction. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, relying in part on the U.S. District Court's finding that the child's habitual residence was not Alabama, but Scotland.
The Supreme Court in an opinion for a unanimous Court by Chief Justice Roberts held that father's appeal from the order entered by the district court was not rendered "moot" by fact that mother had returned with daughter to Scotland, abrogating the Eleventh Circuit opinion in Bekier v. Bekier, 248 F.3d 1051. It held that a case "becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party. As long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of t he litigation, the case is not moot. Because the Chafins continued to vigorously contest the question of where their daughter will be raised, this dispute was very much alive. This case did not address "a hypothetical state of facts," ,and there continued to exist between the parties "that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues. Mr. Chafin sought typical appellate relief: reversal of the District Court determination that E. C.'s habitual residence was Scotland and, upon reversal, an order that E.C. be returned to the United States. The question was whether such relief would be effectual. In arguing that this case was moot because the District Court has no authority to issue a re-return order either under the Convention or pursuant to its inherent equitable powers, Ms. Chafin confused mootness with the merits. Mr. Chafin's claim for re-return could not be dismissed as so implausible that it is insufficient to preserve jurisdiction, and his prospects of success are therefore not pertinent to the mootness inquiry. As to the effectiveness of any relief, even if Scotland were to ignore a re-return order, this case would not be moot. The U.S. courts continue to have personal jurisdiction over Ms. Chafin and may command her to take action under threat of sanctions. She could decide to comply with an order against her and return E.C. to the United States. Enforcement of the order may be uncertain if Ms. Chafin chose to defy it, but such uncertainty does not typically render cases moot.
Mr. Chafin also sought vacatur of the District Court's expense orders. That too is common relief on appeal, and the mootness inquiry comes down to its effectiveness. In contending that this case is moot due to Mr. Chafin's failure to pursue an appeal of the expense orders, which were entered as separate judgments, Ms. Chafin again confused mootness with the merits. Because there is authority for the proposition that failure to appeal such judgments separately does not preclude relief, it is for lower courts at later stages of the litigation to decide whether Mr. Chafin is in fact entitled to the relief he seeks. That relief would not be " 'fully satisfactory,' " but "even the availability of a 'partial remedy' is 'sufficient to prevent [a] case from being moot.
Justice Roberts noted that manipulating constitutional doctrine and holding these cases moot is not necessary to achieve the ends of the Convention and ICARA, and may undermine the treaty's goals and harm the children meant to be protected. If these cases were to become moot upon return, courts would be more likely to grant stays as a matter of course, to prevent the loss of any right to appeal. Such routine stays would
conflict with the Convention's mandate of prompt return. He stated that Courts should apply the four traditional stay factors in considering whether to stay a return order: " '(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.' " Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434, 129 S.Ct. 1749, 173 L.Ed.2d 550 (2009) (quoting Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776, 107 S.Ct. 2113, 95 L.Ed.2d 724 (1987)). In every case under the Hague Convention, the well-being of a child is at stake; application of the traditional stay factors ensures that each case will receive the individualized treatment necessary for appropriate consideration of the child's best interests. He pointed out that “Importantly, whether at the district or appellate court level, courts can and
should take steps to decide these cases as expeditiously as possible, for the sake of the children who find themselves in such an unfortunate situation. Many courts already do so....Cases in American courts often take over two years from filing to resolution; for a six-year-old such as E. C., that is one-third of her lifetime. Expedition will help minimize the extent to which uncertainty adds to the challenges confronting both parents and child.
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's return order and vacated the costs award. It held that (1) The petitioner met his burden of showing that he retained custody rights under Turkish law, and that respondent ( Mother) removed the children from Turkey in interference with his exercise of those rights. (2) Federal law creates a private right of action to enforce access rights protected under the Hague Convention. See 42 U.S.C. § 11603(b). (3) When a district court considers awarding costs to a prevailing petitioner who obtains a return order under the Hague Convention, the court shall award "necessary expenses" relating to the action unless doing so would be "clearly inappropriate." 42 U.S.C. § 11607(b)(3). This standard is discretionary in
nature and is governed by general equitable principles. (4) In the circumstances of this case, an award of all necessary expenses would be "clearly inappropriate."It remanded the cause to the District Court to determine appropriate costs in the first instance.
Nurettin and Zeynep Ozaltin (the Father and Mother, respectively) were dual citizens of Turkey and the United States. They were married in 2001 and had two daughters, S.E.O. (age 9) and Y.O. (currently, age 7), who were also dual citizens of Turkey and the United States. Prior to December 2010, the children resided primarily in Turkey, where they attended school. The Mother alleged that in December 2010, she and the Father got into a heated argument about his purported drinking problem, and that during that argument he threatened her and told her to take their two children and leave. Within a day, the Mother and the children flew to New York City, where the Mother had family. The Mother alleged that during a layover in Europe, she spoke on the phone with the Father, who angrily told her that she and the children should stay in the United States. About two weeks later, on January 7, 2011, the Father filed an application with the Turkish Ministry of Justice seeking the return of the children to Turkey pursuant to the Hague Convention. On February 9, 2011, the Mother initiated divorce proceedings in the Third Family Court in Uskudar. In May 2011, the Father petitioned the Third Family Court for "the court to provisionally grant [him] the parental custody of the children." In the alternative, he requested "an order that [would] require [ ] the children to be brought to Turkey and [would] grant[ ] [him] visitation rights." On May 13, 2011, the Third Family Court declared that the Father's "request for grant of provisionary parental custody is rejected at this point," but it granted him "the possession of the children from 10 am on Saturdays until 12 pm on Sundays every first and third weeks of the month if he goes to the USA." The Father exercised his visitation rights in New York several times between May and August 2011. On March 30, 2012, the Third Family Court rejected another request by the Father for temporary custody, but it ordered that he be allowed to visit with the children on alternating weekends in the United States pursuant to the same visitation schedule that the court had ordered on May 13, 2011.
On March 30, 2012 the Father filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 11603(b), seeking an order enforcing his visitation rights, pursuant to Article 21 of the Hague Convention. Article 21 provides:
An application to make arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access may be presented to the Central Authorities of the Contracting States in the same way as an application for the return of a child. The Central Authorities are bound by the obligations of co-operation which are set forth in Article 7 to promote the peaceful enjoyment of access rights and the fulfillment of any conditions to which the exercise of those rights may be subject. The Central Authorities shall take steps to remove, as far as possible, all obstacles to the exercise of such rights. The Central Authorities, either directly or through intermediaries, may initiate or assist in the institution of proceedings with a view to organizing or protecting these rights and securing respect for the conditions to which the exercise of these rights may be subject.
The father also sought an order requiring the Mother to return the children to Turkey, pursuant to Article 12 of the Hague Convention; and a costs award in an amount to be determined at the end of the litigation, pursuant to Article 26 of the Hague Convention. Article 26 provides, in relevant part:
Upon ordering the return of a child or issuing an order concerning rights of access under this Convention, the judicial or administrative authorities may, where appropriate, direct the person who removed or retained the child, or who prevented the exercise of rights of access, to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the applicant, including travel expenses, any costs incurred or payments made for locating the child, the costs of legal representation of the applicant, and those of returning the child.
In April and May of 2012 the District Court held evidentiary hearings. Both the Father and the Mother proffered testimony by Turkish legal experts as to the parties' respective custody rights. The District Court issued it’s a memorandum opinion and order on June 5, 2012, requiring the Mother to (1) comply with the Turkish court's visitation order, (2) return the children to Turkey by July 15, 2012, and (3) pay the Father for any "necessary expenses" incurred in connection with the suit.
On July 15, 2012, the Mother returned the children to Turkey pursuant to the District Court's order. Since then, Turkish courts have issued several orders pertinent to questions raised in this appeal. On September 14, 2012, the Court of Appeals granted the Father's unopposed motion to take judicial notice of these recent Turkish orders.
The Court of Appeals observed that for the purposes of this appeal, the pivotal issue was whether the Third Family Court actually exercised its authority to award custody to one of the parties, either by granting sole custody rights to the Mother, or by redefining the parents' respective rights such that the Mother could take the
children to the United States without breaching the Father's custody rights. (Turkish Civil Code available at http:// www. hcch. net/ upload/ abduct 2011 cp_ tr 1. pdf (website of the Hague Conference on Private International Law). It found that the district Court's conclusion that the Father retained custody rights under Turkish law was well-founded. The Turkish Ministry of Justice-the Turkish "Central Authority" within the meaning of the Hague Convention submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of State explaining that "although there is a pending divorce case between the parents before the Family Court in Uskudar, the parents still have joint-custody rights and at the time of the wrongful removal they also use[d] to exercise those rights." The Ministry of Justice explained that the Mother, therefore, was "in breach of [the Father's] rights of [ ] custody under the law of Turkey in which the children were habitually resident before the removal." The Mother disputed this conclusion, arguing that the Ministry of Justice was not aware of the various orders of the Third Family Court in Uskudar purportedly granting (or at least endorsing) her custody of the children. Be that as it may,
a removal under the Hague Convention can still be "wrongful" even if it is lawful. The evidence offered at trial showed that the Father retained custody rights-including the right to determine the children's residence-under Turkish law, even if the Mother had primary custody of the children. Most importantly, the Mother did not point to an order of the Third Family Court explicitly recognizing her sole custody of the children, or explicitly recognizing her right to remove the children to the United States without breaching the custody rights of the Father. The Court held that he children were wrongfully removed under the Hague Convention, and it affirmed the District Court's return order.
The District Court awarded to the Father "any necessary costs ... incurred in connection with this action. The Mother argued that "federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over claims seeking to enforce rights of access." She claimed, petitioners may seek to enforce rights of access only in state court or through the State Department, which is the United States's designated "Central Authority" under the Hague Convention. The Court found that the Mother's argument was not jurisdictional in nature but instead goes to whether 42 USC § 11603(b) creates a federal right of action. Disagreeing with the Fourth Circuit, which held that it does not, (Cantor v. Cohen, 442 F.3d 196 (4th Cir.2006), it found that the statutory basis for a federal right of action to enforce access rights under the Hague Convention was in the implementing legislation. According to the enacting legislation, "[t]he courts of the States and the United States district courts shall have concurrent original jurisdiction of actions arising under the [Hague] Convention." 42 U.S.C. § 11603(a). The statute then announces the actions falling within that category: Any person seeking to initiate judicial proceedings under the Convention for the return of a child or for arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access to a child may do so by commencing a civil action by filing a petition for the relief sought in any court which has jurisdiction of such action and which is authorized to exercise its jurisdiction in the place where the child is located at the time the petition is filed.. 42 USC § 11603(b). The statute provides for the relevant burden of proof in access cases: "A petitioner in an action brought under subsection (b) of this section shall establish by a preponderance of the evidence ...in the case of an action for arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access, that the petitioner has such rights." 42 USC § 11603(e)(1)(B) These statutory provisions straightforwardly establish that a petitioner may "initiate judicial proceedings under the Convention ... for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access to a child," and that "United States district courts shall have concurrent original jurisdiction" over such actions. Moreover, § 11603(e)(1)(B) underscores that actions arising under the Convention include "an action for arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access." Accordingly, s 11603 unambiguously creates a federal right of action to secure the effective exercise of rights of access protected under the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention explicitly recognizes that if a Contracting State provides a judicial forum, petitioners seeking to enforce access rights may initiate judicial proceedings directly: This Convention shall not preclude any person ... who claims that there has been a breach of custody or access rights within the meaning of Article 3 or 21 from applying directly to the judicial or administrative authorities of a Contracting State, whether or not under the provisions of this Convention. Hague Convention, art. 29. Thus, initiating a petition with a State's Central Authority "is a nonexclusive remedy" for enforcing access rights. Article 29 permits the person who claims a breach of custody or access rights, as defined by Articles 3 and 21, to bypass the Convention completely,
by invoking other applicable laws or procedures, such as provisions in ICARA. In sum, even though not required under Article 21, federal law in the United States provides an avenue for aggrieved parties to seek judicial relief directly in a federal district court or an appropriate state court.
The Court of Appeals observed that the Hague Convention provides that "[u]pon ordering the return of a child or issuing an order concerning rights of access under this Convention, the judicial or administrative authorities may, where appropriate, direct the person who removed or retained the child ... to pay necessary expenses incurred by ... the applicant." Hague Convention, art. 26. These "necessary expenses" may include "travel expenses, any costs incurred or payments made for locating the child, the costs of legal representation of the applicant, and those of returning the child." ICARA provides that: Any court ordering the return of a child pursuant to an action brought under section 11603 of this title shall order the respondent to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner, including court costs, legal fees, foster home or other care during the course of proceedings in the action, and transportation costs related to the return of the child, unless the respondent establishes that such order would be clearly inappropriate. Although Article 26 of the Hague Convention provides that a court "may" award "necessary expenses" to a prevailing petitioner, § 11607(b)(3) shifts the burden onto a losing respondent in a return action to show why an award of "necessary expenses" would be "clearly inappropriate." Nonetheless, § 11607(b)(3) retains what we the Court had previously described as the "equitable" nature of cost awards. Accordingly, a prevailing petitioner in a return action is presumptively entitled to necessary costs, subject to the application of equitable principles by the district court. Absent any statutory guidance to the contrary, the appropriateness of such costs depends on the same general standards that apply when "attorney's fees are to be awarded to prevailing parties only as a matter of the court's discretion." There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations, but instead equitable discretion should be exercised in light of the relevant considerations. It vacated the District Court's award of "any necessary costs [that the Father] incurred in connection with this action," In re S.E.O., 873 F.Supp.2d at 546, because the Mother had a reasonable basis for removing the children to the United States. It also had concerns that, contrary to the spirit of the Hague Convention, the Father may have engaged in forum shopping with respect to certain aspects of the suit. While the Turkish court orders did not justify the Mother's removal of the children to the United States, they nonetheless suggested that her actions did not "run counter to the Convention's purpose of deterring child abductions by parents who attempt to find a friendlier forum for deciding custodial disputes." In its view, an award of full expenses was unwarranted in light of the Mother's reasonable basis for thinking that she could remove the children from Turkey
Petitioner and Respondent, the parents of E.E. and D.E., were married in Italy in July 2011. Respondent had initiated divorce proceedings in Italy and the parties were now legally separated. The family came to the United States in August 2011 in connection with efforts to secure effective medical and rehabilitative treatment for D.E., who was autistic. D.E. was diagnosed with autism on March 14, 2008, when he was approximately two years old. Petitioner and Respondent were both committed to helping D.E. and took him to various doctors in Italy as well as abroad in Scotland for medical treatment. When Petitioner and Respondent's own resources were inadequate to pay for the treatments, they solicited donations through a website and a blog about D.E. Dr. Antonucci was D.E.'s primary treating professional in Italy from December of 2008 until May of 2010. One of the treatments that Dr. Antonucci recommended for D.E. was hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which was eventually administered in a hyperbaric chamber installed in the family home in Velletri, Italy. He also treated D.E. for gut inflammation, heavy metal intoxication and viral issues believed to be underlying physical causes of autism. D.E.'s "support teacher" at his school in Italy did not know any specific techniques for treating children with autism. On their own initiative, Petitioner and Respondent attended training in Applied Behavioral Analysis ("ABA") techniques at a private institution, Pianeta Autismo, and Respondent attended three additional courses. With the permission of the principal of D.E.'s school, Respondent spent two hours each day at D .E.'s school, instructing the support teacher in the ABA techniques. Petitioner and Respondent also consulted with another doctor in Italy, Dr. Claudia Lerz, to develop an ABA treatment plan for D.E. According to Respondent's expert, Dr. Fiorile, ABA therapy is "the most common treatment" for children with autism in the United States and it can have an enormous impact on the life of an autistic child Dr. Antonucci also endorsed ABA treatment. Respondent estimated that she personally provided 70-80% of D.E.'s thirty to forty weekly hours of ABA treatment while the family were living in Italy. Professional ABA treatment would have been preferable but very expensive. The Italian national health care system covered 90 minutes a week of psychomotility therapy for D.E. for the first year after his autism diagnosis, with an extra 90 minutes of speech therapy during the second year, but did not pay for other types of treatment or therapy for D.E. Both Respondent and Petitioner were unhappy with the options for D.E.'s schooling and therapy in Italy as they did not see results in D.E.'s developmental progress. They began to look elsewhere for treatment options, and in October of 2009, the family traveled to Florida for a week, at the recommendation of Dr. Antonucci, to consult with an American doctor about therapies available for D.E. in the United States. In April or May of 2010, Petitioner and Respondent met Dr. Giuseppina Feingold in Italy. Dr. Feingold was an Italian-speaking pediatrician with a practice in Suffern, New York, who focused on children with special needs. In August of 2010, Petitioner and Respondent traveled with E.E. and D.E. to Suffern, New York, so that Dr. Feingold could assess and begin treating D.E. The family stayed with Respondent's first cousins, John and Patricia Tempesta, at their home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. During that August 2010 visit, they met other parents at Dr. Feingold's clinic, who told them about provisions for special needs children at the local schools in the Suffern area. Both Respondent and Petitioner were impressed
by the treatment options available for D.E. in the United States. Around this time, Petitioner and Respondent began to formulate a plan for the family to move to the United States for two or three years, during which time Petitioner and Respondent could decide if it would be possible and appropriate to make a permanent move to the United States. Meanwhile, Petitioner began meeting with Marcello Russodivito, to whom he had been introduced through one of Mr. Tempesta's contacts, about potentially investing in Mr. Russodivito's restaurant so that he could obtain a business visa for himself and derivative ones for his family, which would allow them to pursue treatment for D.E. in the United States. Mr. Russodivito understood that Petitioner planned to fund the restaurant investment by selling the family's house in Italy.
On September 2, 2011, Petitioner and Respondent co-signed a one-year lease for a house near Mr. Russodivito's restaurant. On September 15, 2011, Respondent, E.E. and D .E. moved into that house. In October, Mr. Russodivito arranged for one of his employees, Pasquale Ruggiero, to share the house with them. In September and November, E.E. and D.E. were enrolled in the local public schools. In an email to Respondent at the time, Petitioner said that they should ship "books, clothing, any furniture we can't sell, ornaments, dishes, sheets, blankets" in a cargo container from Italy to the United States. Petitioner also researched the cost of shipping D.E.'s hyperbaric oxygen chamber. On September 13, 2011, Petitioner wrote to the U.S. Consulate in Rome to apply for visas for himself and his family for the purpose of "explor[ing] the possibilities of entering into a business partnership with Mr. Marcello Russodivito who already owns an established Italian restaurant in the city of Suffern, NY. I also wish to request a B-2 visa for my wife and 2 children, who will accompany me in this trip to the United States." Respondent traveled with the two children to Italy to renew their United States visas in November 2011 and then the children and Respondent returned to Suffern, while Petitioner went to Italy to finish settling the family's affairs. Petitioner did not return to the United States until December 2011.
Meanwhile, on September 20, 2012, Petitioner applied to the Italian court for an order directing the Respondent to return with the children to Italy and provisions for visitation with the children. With only Petitioner in attendance, the court in Velletri ordered Respondent to return to Italy with the children and also ordered temporary measures including that Petitioner and Respondent would live separately but share parental authority; that Respondent and the children would live in the family home; that Petitioner could visit 8–12 hours per week; and that Petitioner would pay spousal and child support of 1,600 Euros per month. At the time of trial, Respondent had not complied with the Italian court's order to return to Italy with the children, nor had there been visitation or any other contact between Petitioner and the children. Respondent appealed the Velletri Court's order and, on April 5, 2013, the Court of Appeals in Rome vacated several provisions of the September 20, 2012, Order and granted Respondent exclusive custody of the children. The April 5, 2013, Order, also withdrew the Velletri Court's prior order requiring that Respondent return to Italy, revoked the award of the family home to Respondent, and revoked the Petitioner's visiting rights and rights of access to the children. Although the April 5, 2013, Order provided Respondent with exclusive custody of the children, it did not necessarily moot Petitioner's application to the district Court because it was a temporary order, which appeared to have been designed, at least in part, to conform to Family Court protective orders in the United States, which are were in effect until 2014. It expressly contemplated further investigative and adjudicative proceedings in the lower court.
Petitioner again left for Italy in early January 2012, following an altercation with Respondent . The two children had not left the United States since November of 2011, but Respondent left the country again in April 2012, to attend court proceedings in Italy. On December 1, 2012, Respondent and the two children moved to their current residence in Suffern with Mr. Ruggiero. Petitioner never relocated to the United States.
D.E. was severely autistic and had only a limited capacity for speech. He did not appear in court. Respondent and Mr. Ruggiero took care of feeding D.E., grooming him and ensuring that he was supervised and occupied. According to Respondent and to Dr. Fiorile, D.E. had significantly progressed in his school environment in the United States and was moving closer to being able to lead an independent life. When he first began school in the United States, D.E.'s test results were far below average; at age six, he presented with the fine motor skills of a three year old. Dr. Fiorile opined that D.E. performed poorly on the testing because his Italian treatments had been deficient. According to Dr. Fiorile, the CABAS program, which D.E. currently attended at a school in Stony Point, New York, offered the best ABA curriculum available to autistic children. Dr. Fiorile testified that D.E. had "one-to-one instruction" throughout the day and had made "exceptional progress" Dr. Fiorile explained that the high level of intervention in D.E.'s current classroom setting was the key to his success. Dr. Fiorile further opined that D.E. required a program like the one in which he was currently enrolled to continue to making meaningful progress in, among other things, cognition, language, social and emotional skills. Dr. Fiorile further opined that, if D.E. "were to be removed from this educational program and not provided this intensity of educational programming that's being provided by highly skilled and trained professionals" he will face "a severe loss of the skills he has successfully developed since beginning in CABAS ...." (“CABAS” is an acronym for Comprehensive Application of Behavioral Analysis to Schooling and it is “an intensive, data-driven specialized ABA program.” ) While the United States has over 4,000 board certified ABA practitioners, Dr. Fiorile knew of fewer than twenty in Italy. Dr. Fiorile concluded in her January 11, 2013, Report, admitted into evidence at trial, that if D .E. was separated from his CABAS program, he "will most certainly fail to make the same level of progress and will, without doubt, demonstrate significant skill regression" and that it would be "extremely harmful" to return him to Italy at this time. The Court found that separating D.E. from the CABAS program, while it remained available to him, would put him in an intolerable situation due to the grave risk of deterioration of his condition and denial of needed rehabilitation.
Respondent testified that she and the children did not currently have legal immigration status in the United States, as they overstayed their visas in April of 2012. In October or November of 2012, Respondent applied for a visa for herself and the children on the basis of the domestic abuse that she suffered. Her application was currently pending.
The district court found that Petitioner and Respondent intended to move to the United States as a family for a period of two to three years, during which time medical and rehabilitative treatments would be pursued for D.E., and also agreed that it was possible that the move would be made permanent at the end of the three-year period, circumstances permitting. Notwithstanding the plan to sell their house in Italy to fund the restaurant investment, there was no agreement to abandon the family's ties to Italy.
The court concluded that the children's habitual residence for Hague Convention purposes at the time of their retention in the United States was Italy. The Court took judicial notice of Title IV, Italian Civil Code of Law, Art. 316 ("[a] child is subject to the authority of its parents until majority ... or emancipation. The authority is exercised by both parents by mutual agreement") and Title IV, Italian Civil Code of Law, Art. 144 ("[t]he spouses agree between them the pattern of family life and fix the residence of the family according to the requirements of both and to those prevailing for the family. Each of the spouses has the authority to implement the agreed pattern"). Thus, Petitioner had rights of custody under Italian law in April 2012, when the retention of the children in the United States began. It also found that the Petitioner had been exercising his rights and the he had established a prima facie case for return.
Nevertheless, the district court found by clear and convincing evidence that, because D.E. was severely autistic, he faced a grave risk of harm if he had to return to Italy, as the return would severely disrupt and impair his development. It observed that in this Circuit, courts have emphasized the severity of the psychological or physical harm required under the "grave risk of harm" affirmative defense. See, e.g., Reyes Olguin v. Cruz Santana, No. 03 Civ. 6299 JG, 2005 WL 67094, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan.13, 2005) ("[t]here is a spectrum of harms a repatriated child may suffer. At one end 'are those situations where repatriation might cause inconvenience or hardship, eliminate certain educational or economic opportunities, or not comport with the child's preferences; at the other end of the spectrum are those situations in which the child faces a real risk of being hurt, physically or psychologically, as a result of repatriation' "). Because "returning a child is likely to present adjustment concerns in almost every Convention case," the Court should examine whether the child is likely to "suffer
long-term permanent harm if returned." In re Lozano, 809 F.Supp.2d at 222.
D.E. had the fine motor skills of a child half his age when he first came to the United States. He was enrolled in a premier ABA school program and had made significant developmental progress. Dr. Fiorile had proferred credibly that, if D.E. left the Stony Point CABAS program even temporarily, he would face a significant regression in his skills and that without such an intensive, structured program, D.E. would not develop the cognitive, language, social, emotional and independent living skills that he was likely to acquire through such a program. Petitioner did not present any testimony controverting Dr. Fiorile's considered assessment. Respondent had also proven that there was a significant lack of resources in Italy for treating autism as compared to those available in the United States. D.E. had multiple doctors in Italy who were involved in his care including, Dr. Nicola Antonucci and Dr. Claudia Lerz. However, he met with most of these doctors infrequently and none of them were able to provide the intensive behavioral instruction that D.E. had been able to receive in the United States. There was no indication that D.E. could ever obtain the treatment and resulting positive prognosis that he has gained through the CABAS program were he to return to Italy. The Court found that the predicted deterioration in D.E.'s cognition, social skills and self-care if D.E. was separated from the CABAS program, to which Dr. Fiorile had testified, constituted psychological and physical harm sufficient to establish the "grave risk of harm" affirmative defense. As even a brief separation from the CABAS program would likely lead to a severe regression in D.E.'s progress, Respondent had shown by clear and convincing evidence that returning D.E. to Italy and separating him from the CABAS program posed a grave risk of harm to D.E. and would place him in an intolerable situation.
The testimony at trial established by clear and convincing evidence that E.E. and D.E. had a loving and close relationship and enjoyed spending time in each other's company. It was also established that E.E. helped his mother in caring for his brother. The district court observed that Courts in this Circuit have frequently declined to separate siblings, finding that the sibling relationship should be protected even if only one of the children can properly raise an affirmative defense under the Hague Convention. See, e.g., Blondin, 78 F.Supp.2d 283, 291 (S.D.N.Y. Jan.12, 2000) (declining to separate children because "children's relationships with their siblings are the type of intimate human relationships that are afforded a substantial measure of sanctuary from unjustified interference by the state") (quoting Aristotle P. v. Johnson, 721 F.Supp. 1002, 1005-06 (N.D.Ill.1989)); Broca v. Giron, No. 11 CV 5818(SJ)(JMA), 2013 WL 867276, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2013) (deciding not to "further fracture the family unit" and separate the siblings). D.E. would face a significant disruption of his routine and general happiness were his older brother to return to Italy. Such a separation was also likely to harm E.E., since the one parent with whom he had a good relationship would have to remain in the United States to care for D.E. Having found that D.E. would face a grave risk of harm if separated from the CABAS program and repatriated to Italy, the Court would not separate the two brothers. Therefore, the Petition was denied as to both children, without prejudice to renewal if D.E. was no longer able to participate in the CABAS program and if the Italian court system issued a final order requiring the return of the children to Italy.
Filipczak v Filipczak, 2013 WL 692694 (2d Cir 2013) [Poland] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Well Settled]
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. While the Mother was represented by counsel in the District Court, she appears pro se on appeal. Thus, it construed her submissions to the Court liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. See Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994).
The Mother raised several arguments on appeal, all of which were without merit. First, she claimed that her removal of the children from Poland was not wrongful because she was forced to leave Poland due to the expiration of her visa. The Mother, however, failed to raise this argument before the trial court. Because the Mother gave no justification for her failure to make this argument below, the Court would not consider it for the first time on appeal. Bogle–Assegai v. Connecticut, 470 F.3d 498, 504 (2d Cir.2006) (“[I]t is a well-established general rule that an appellate court will not consider an issue raised for the first time on appeal.”). She also alleged a number of defects in the evidence presented to the District Court, including failure to authenticate e-mails between her mother and the Father, bias on the part of the guardian ad litem, and failure to conduct cross-examination of several witnesses. These arguments were also presented for the first time on appeal, without any explanation as to why they were not raised below, and the Court refused to consider them for the same reasons.
Finally, the Mother argued that the children had stronger ties to the United States than they did to Poland, and therefore should be permitted to remain. It held that this misconstrues Article 12. The standard under that provision does not call for determining in which location the child is relatively better settled, but rather for determining whether the child has become so settled in a new environment that repatriation would be against the child's best interest. Blondin, 238 F.3d at 164. The Mother made no such showing.
Patrick v. Rivera-Lopez, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 388053 (C.A.1 (Puerto Rico)) [Puerto Rico] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies - Bond] [Rights of Custody]
The Court of Appeals observed that Patrick had to allege facts sufficient to show that he has "rights of custody... under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention." Hague Convention art. 3. Patrick alleged in his petition that L.N.R.'s habitual residence was the United Kingdom. For purposes of this appeal, Rivera did not dispute this allegation. Therefore, Patrick's rights of custody were determined with respect to United Kingdom law. "Where a child's father and mother were married to each other at the time of his birth, they shall each have parental responsibility for the child." Children Act, (1989) § 2(1). On its face, this provision would appear not to apply to Patrick and Rivera, who married after L.N.R.'s birth, but "[r]eferences in this Act to a child whose father and mother were ... married to each other at the time of his birth must be read with section 1 of the Family Law Reform Act 1987 (which extends their meaning)."Id. § 2(3). That section states that "references to a person whose father and mother were married to each other at the time of his birth include ... references to any person to whom subsection (3) below applies." Family Law Reform Act, (1987) § 1(2). Subsection (3) applies to "any person who ... is a legitimated person within the meaning of section 10 of [the Legitimacy Act 1976]."Id. § 1(3). That section defines "legitimated person" to include "a person legitimated or recognised as legitimated ... under section 2 or 3 above," Legitimacy Act, (1976) s 10(1), and Section 3 of the Legitimacy Act 1976 provides that where the parents of an illegitimate person marry one another and the father of the illegitimate person is not at the time of the marriage domiciled in England and Wales but is domiciled in a country by the law of which the illegitimate person became legitimated by virtue of such subsequent marriage, that person, if living, shall in England and Wales be recognised as having been so legitimated from the date of the marriage. ( The National Archives of the United Kingdom made these statutes available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/) Based on these statutes, it concluded (as did the district court) that L.N.R.'s removal was wrongful under the Hague Convention if L.N.R. became legitimated under Puerto Rico law by virtue of Patrick's marriage to Rivera. With his petition, Patrick filed a letter from the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (a unit of Ministry of Justice's Official Solicitor) stating that "[t]he parents are married to each other and therefore both have parental responsibility for [L.N.R.], pursuant to Section 2(1) of the Children Act of 1989.
The Court of Appeals noted that tor more than a century, Puerto Rico law has provided that a child born under the same circumstances as L.N.R. is legitimated by the subsequent marriage of her parents. When Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898, the Spanish Civil Code provided that "natural children," defined as children born out of wedlock to parents who could have married each other at the time of conception, may be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents. Puerto Rico's Civil Codes of 1902 and 1911 contained similar laws. Puerto Rico's current law was the same, except that it no longer requires that a child's parents be eligible to marry each other at the time of the child's conception. Despite the clear language of the statute, the district court held that Patrick's marriage to Rivera did not legitimate L.N.R. under Puerto Rico law because Patrick did not present his affidavit of paternity to the Vital Statistics Registry of Puerto Rico. The court stated that a child born out of wedlock "will not be automatically considered as begotten by" a man and woman who later marry, unless they register the child as theirs.” Patrick, 2012 WL 5462677, at *6 (citing Ramos v. Rosario, 67 P.R.R. 641 (1947)). Neither opinion on which the district court relied adequately supported its decision. The 1911 Civil Code was superseded by laws that expand the range of ways in which a parent can acknowledge a child and the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico has held that under current law, "[t]he father, or in his default, his heirs, may acknowledge in any way their children, expressly or impliedly, regardless of the dates or circumstances of their births and for all legal purposes." Because Patrick needed only to acknowledge L.N.R. "in any way," his affidavit acknowledging L.N.R. as his daughter sufficed to establish that he was her father. Because Patrick was L.N.R.'s father, his marriage to Rivera legitimated L.N.R. Patrick alleged in his petition that he was the father of L.N.R ., Rivera admitted this allegation in her answer, and no one else challenged Patrick's paternity. It held that Patrick's marriage to Rivera legitimated L.N.R. under Puerto Rico law. As a result, Patrick had "parental responsibility" for L.N.R. under United Kingdom law, which meant that he had "rights of custody" under the Hague Convention. The district court erred when it dismissed Patrick's petition on the grounds that he did not have rights of custody.
The district court ordered Patrick to pay a $10,000 bond, stating that "[t]his bond will serve not only as a non-resident bond, but shall also respond to any damages that Respondent may incur should Petitioner not prevail on the merits." Patrick moved to vacate the bond requirement, arguing that the Hague Convention explicitly prohibits a court from requiring such a bond: "No security, bond or deposit, however described, shall be required to guarantee the payment of costs and expenses in the judicial or administrative proceedings falling within the scope of this Convention." Hague Convention art. 22. The district court continued to assert the authority to impose a bond but reduced the amount of the bond to $500. In a minute order dated June 28, 2012, the district court relied on three opinions that refer to instances in which a court imposed a bond in a Hague Convention case: Whiting v. Krassner, 391 F.3d 540 (3d Cir.2004); Bekier v. Bekier, 248 F.3d 1051 (11th Cir.2001); and Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927 (11th Cir.1998).
The Court of Appeals held that the Hague Convention deprived the district court of authority to impose a bond on Patrick. It saw no distinction between a bond imposed to "respond to damages that Respondent may incur should Petitioner not prevail on the merits" and the bond that the Convention prohibits. The opinions on which the district court relied refer only in passing to a district court's imposition of a bond, without saying whether ordering the bond was within the court's power. Whiting, 391 F.3d at 545; Bekier, 248 F.3d at 1053 & n. 2; Lops, 140 F.3d at 948, 964. These opinions offered no reason to ignore the text of the Convention. It reversed the dismissal of Patrick's petition, vacated the order requiring that Patrick post a bond, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to conduct a trial as soon as possible.
On July 16, 2012, the Honorable Sterling Johnson referred the matter to a Magistrate to hold an evidentiary hearing and issue a Report and Recommendation. The Magistrate concluded that: (1) petitioner established a prima facie case for repatriation of his two children under the Hague Convention; (2) the children were not well settled in New York to an extent precluding repatriation under the Hague Convention; (3) respondent had not established that the grave risk of harm exception to repatriation applies; and (4) the mature child defense did not apply to prevent repatriation in this case. He recommended that this Court grant petitioner's petition for
repatriation of his two children to Mexico, the country of their habitual residence.
Petitioner and respondent were married in April of 1995 and began living together in Cardenar after their religious wedding ceremony on June 3, 1995. They had three children together, J.V. ("oldest child"), M.V. ("middle child"), and J.V. ("youngest child"), and the youngest two children were subjects of this action..The middle child was born on December 3, 1997, and was currently fourteen years old. The youngest child was born on October 16, 2002, and was currently nine years old. All three children were born in Mexico and were Mexican citizens. The middle child and youngest child attended school in Cardenas, and the middle child received very high marks. Petitioner and respondent lived together in their family home until February 2010. One night that month, petitioner and respondent had a fight. Tr. at 83:22-85:3; 123:21-125:14. According to respondent, petitioner had locked her out of the house, and that she entered the house through a window and got into bed. She says that petitioner accused her of cheating and told her she had to be examined by a doctor, and when she refused, he "began jerking [her] around." Petitioner confirms that he told respondent that she had to be examined by a doctor to see if she had sexual relations with someone else, but denies yelling at her.According to the middle child, her parents' fighting woke her up that night. After the fight, respondent took the middle child and youngest child and went to her mother's house. Respondent stayed with the two younger children at her mother's home until July of that year. Between February of 2010 and July of 2010, petitioner saw the children on
weekends and tried to stay involved in their lives. Respondent testified that during this time, she would sometimes run into petitioner on the street in their small town, that he would become violent and jerk her around on the street, and that he once forcibly tried to pull her onto his motorbike. In late July of 2010, she took the children out of Mexico, without telling petitioner or asking his permission. They traveled to Brooklyn to live with respondent's other sister, Gabriela, in New York City.
Petitioner denied having abused respondent or the children He did admit to having had at least one fight with respondent that turned physically violent. Respondent, on the other hand, claimed that petitioner abused her for nearly the entire duration of their marriage. She stated that when she was pregnant with the youngest child in 2002, petitioner kicked her and she fell down. She claimed that in the years 2008 and 2009, petitioner hit her often and was getting very violent. Respondent went to Mexico City to stay with her father four or five times during this period of time because she felt safe in her father's home. Respondent also claimed that petitioner was controlling and verbally abusive to her. Respondent's mother testified that she had seen bruises on respondent during her marriage to petitioner. According to the middle child, in Mexico, "[my parents] were fighting all the time and they like punched each other or hit and they yell at each other." She saw her father hit her mother, and "[l]ike he kick her or he like grab her by the hand and like throw her away." Respondent and the middle child both recounted an incident, occurring when the middle child was six or seven, wherein petitioner hit the middle child on the bottom with a broom. The middle child testified to another incident when petitioner hit her on the bottom with a belt. In her deposition, entered into evidence, respondent described a third incident with the middle child, wherein petitioner dragged her by the arm into the house. Respondent was not aware of any where petitioner abused the youngest child.
Dr. Evan Stark, who the court permitted to testify as an expert in domestic violence, testified at the hearing about the impact of domestic violence on women and on children who witness their mother's abuse. Dr. Stark concluded to a high degree of certainty that there was domestic violence in respondent's life, and that petitioner was coercive and controlling of respondent. He also testified about the general harms to children who observe a parent being abused, explaining that there are direct effects (including direct physical exposure and being involved in the violence) and indirect effects (including psychological disturbance). He explained that in order to conclude that the children in this case had suffered any psychological harm, he would need to perform a psychological assessment of the children. Dr. Stark, however, did not perform a psychological assessment of either child. Dr. Stark opined that the children face extreme risk if they were to be returned to Mexico to live with petitioner. When asked whether they would face risks if they lived in Mexico City with their mother, Dr.
Stark opined that "the risk [the children would face] would be largely a function of the willingness of the authorities to limit access of [petitioner] and it would be largely a function of the risk that [respondent] would face." Dr. Stark's prescription for what can be done to reduce the harm the children have already suffered from witnessing domestic violence is that: [the children should be sent] a strong message that tells them that no one has a right to do what was done to them or to expose them to what they were exposed to and that their mother's decision to put her own safety and their safety before their network of contacts and relationships with loved ones and family members is a decision that we respect and endorse. He characterized respondent's removal of the children from Mexico as "the single-most healthy act that could have been taken."
Respondent did not appear to make any arguments respecting petitioner's prima facie case and appeared to urge this Court to focus on the affirmative defenses respondent raises. The children lived their entire lives in their family home in Mexico, and had been living in the United States for only two years since their
removal. These facts alone were sufficient to establish that the children's habitual residence under the Hague Convention was Mexico. Petitioner established that removal of the children was in breach of his custody rights. He submitted evidence of Mexican law showing that he and respondent had joint custodial rights by virtue of being the children's parents, and that those custodial rights can only be terminated by judicial action. Petitioner also established that he was exercising his custody rights at the time of removal. At the time respondent removed the children from Mexico, the children had been living with respondent and her mother for approximately five months. During this time, the children spent weekends with petitioner, and he remained involved in their schooling. The Magistrate concluded that petitioner has proven by a preponderance of the evidence the Mexico was the habitual residence of the children, that petitioner had rights of custody, and that respondent removed the children from Mexico in breach of petitioner's custody rights. Therefore, petitioner raised a prima facie case of wrongful removal under the Hague Convention.
Respondent argued that petitioner has physically and psychologically abused her and the children, and that the children should remain in New York where they are attending school, receiving superior health care and education to that which they received in Mexico, and happily living in a circle of extended family. Under Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention, "a court may decline to repatriate a child if the party opposing repatriation establishes by clear and convincing evidence that repatriation would create a grave risk of physical or psychological harm to the child." Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 157. The harms a child may experience if repatriated can be considered on a spectrum. Id. at 162.At one end are "those situations where repatriation might cause inconvenience or hardship, eliminate certain educational or economic opportunities, or not comport with the child's preferences."Id. These situations do not constitute grave risk of harm under the Hague Convention. At the other end of the spectrum are "those situations in which a child faces a real risk of being hurt, physically or psychologically, as a result of repatriation." These situations do constitute grave risk of harm under the Hague Convention. If a court concludes that a child faces grave risk of harm, before it can decline to order repatriation, the court must determine whether there are any ameliorative measures that could be taken to reduce this risk and enable a child to return safely to his home country. Id. In fact, the Second Circuit has instructed that a finding of grave risk of harm, without consideration of ameliorative measures, is not sufficient to deny repatriation. The grave risk analysis must be based upon the "specific facts presented in th[e] case."Id. at 163 n. 12.A court may consider as non-dispositive factors whether the children are settled into their new environment, and whether the children have views on repatriation, taking into account the children's age and degree of maturity. Reyes Olguin v. Cruz Santana (Olguin II), No. 03-CV-6288, 2005 WL 67094, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2005).
The Magistrate observed that in cases where respondents have established this defense, courts "have focused on evidence of a sustained pattern of physical abuse and/or a propensity for violent abuse." Laguna v. Avila, No. 07-CV-5136, 2008 WL 1986253, *8 (E.D.N.Y. May 7, 2008) (collecting cases). Evidence of sporadic or isolated incidents of abuse, or incidents aimed at persons other than the child at issue is typically not sufficient to establish grave risk of harm. In this case, there was no sustained pattern of physical violence against the children. The middle child testified to two incidents of physical abuse from her father, when he hit her on the bottom with a broom and a belt. According to respondent, the middle child was six or seven when the broom incident occurred, and petitioner said that he was trying to discipline the child. There was no evidence presented that petitioner had ever physically abused the youngest child. This evidence certainly does not show a sustained pattern of physical abuse of the children. The evidence did establish that petitioner abused respondent. Respondent testified to physical abuse that began early on in their relationship. The middle child verified that her parents were "fighting all the time and they like punched each other or hit and they yell at each other" and that she saw her father kick and grab her mother. Although some courts have found that a child witnessing extreme abuse may suffer psychological harms sufficient to invoke the grave risk of harm defense, the evidence did not support such a finding here. When asked whether she had any fears about returning to Mexico, the middle child responded that she was afraid people would talk about her. If she returned to Mexico, she would not want to live with her father anymore because she doesn't "want anything to happen again." Although she did not elaborate, I infer that she does not want her parents to fight. DDr. Stark's testimony merely confirmed that the relationship between petitioner and respondent was abusive, and that, generally speaking, children are negatively impacted by witnessing one parent abuse the other. Dr. Stark interviewed respondent for four hours, but spent very little time with the two children. He agreed that in order to conclude that the children had suffered serious psychological harms, a psychological assessment would need to be done on the children. Nevertheless, without conducting such an assessment, he gave his opinion of the harm caused to the children, and the risks they faced upon return to Mexico. He characterized the harms suffered by the children as "serious," from having been "exposed and repeatedly exposed to [petitioner's] abuse of [respondent]." Dr. Stark's opinions were easily distinguished from expert testimony that has been found to support denial of repatriation based on grave risk of harm. First, Dr. Stark's testimony about the general risks of harm to children witnessing a parent's abuse did not establish that these harms actually occurred in this case. See Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 163 n. 12 (explaining that the grave risk of harm exception requires a close examination of the particular facts relating to the child at issue). Indeed, Dr. Stark testified that, although he did not perform a psychological assessment of the children, "[he] didn't observe and [respondent] did not report to [him] that the children had suffered any extreme psychological harms." Second, unlike cases where courts have denied repatriation based on children observing a parent's abuse, Dr. Stark did not conclude that the children would suffer trauma solely as a function of their return to Mexico. See Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 166 (affirming district court's application of the grave risk of harm defense where the district court concluded that the mere return of a child to her home country would trigger post-traumatic stress disorder); Elyashiv v. Elyashiv, 353 F.Supp.2d 394, 408 (E.D.N.Y.2005) (children witnessed physical abuse of a parent, and mere return to their home country would trigger post-traumatic stress disorder). The evidence does not establish that the children have suffered extreme harm, or would suffer a grave risk of harm if repatriated. Respondent bases her argument on several cases where courts in other Circuits found grave risk of harm based on a child's observation of one parent's abuse of the other parent. In these cases, however, the evidence established that the conduct of the violent parent was extreme. In this case, the admissible evidence shows that petitioner was physically and emotionally abusive to respondent on a number of occasions, and that the physical abuse involved, at most, kicking and hitting. There is no evidence that petitioner was uncontrollably violent or threatened anyone's life.
Even if the Court were to conclude that the children faced a grave risk of harm from return to the custody of their father, this Court would need to consider the options for repatriation that might reduce that risk. Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 163 n. 11. Here, the record indicated that there were arrangements available to the family that could ameliorate that risk. When asked about the risks the children would face if they were to return to Mexico with their mother while living in Mexico City, Dr. Stark opined that "the risk would be a function of the willingness of the authorities to limit [petitioner's] access to his wife." Respondent did not argue that these ameliorative options are foreclosed by nature of Mexican law, or that she has already exhausted the possible ways she could live away from petitioner, but remain in Mexico with the children. She argues merely that, based on Dr. Stark's opinion, "she will not be safe if she returns to Mexico," Respondent's own testimony, however, indicated that she felt safe in Mexico City with her father. The evidence indicated that it was possible for respondent and the children to live safely in Mexico City, and presumably for respondent to negotiate visitation with petitioner or seek a judicial decree of divorce and/or a change in custodial arrangement from the Mexican courts. Respondent testified that "in [Mexico] no one pays attention to women who are abused. On other occasions when [abuse] has happened, I had wanted to bring charges. But unfortunately sexism is very rampant in Mexico." She also testified that after the incident in February of 2010, she and petitioner went to court and were told that they should "work things out for the sake of [the] children." There was no evidence that respondent has sought any other help from authorities or social resources, nor that she has attempted to initiate divorce proceedings.Therefore, because the evidence did not support a finding of grave risk of harm to the children and there wereoptions for the safe return of the children to Mexico, the Court could not deny repatriation based on the grave risk of harm exception under Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention.
Respondent argues that petitioner instituted these proceedings more than one year after the children were removed from Mexico, and that the children are well settled in the United States.. The evidence establishes that petitioner instituted these proceedings more than one year after respondent removed the children from Mexico. The children had been in the country for two years but moved four times. The family never had its own residence. Respondent worked several waitressing jobs since she came to New York, and did not pay taxes on her wages. She was here illegally, as were the children. The middle child spent the first twelve years of her life in Mexico, and had only been in the United States for the last two years. Although the youngest child has spent a larger portion of his life here because he was only nine years old, he was struggling with English and not doing well in school. These factors, taken together, indicated that the children were not well settled within the meaning of the Hague Convention.
Respondent argued that the middle child objected to her return to Mexico, and that she was of sufficient maturity that this Court should take her objection into account. The middle child, who testified with an impressive command of the English language even though she knew no English when she came here two years ago,
impressed the Court as intelligent and well-spoken. It found her testimony compelling and very credible, and believed that she gave honest answers about why she wanted to stay in the United States. Her reasons for objecting to her return, however, did not provide a basis for the Court to deny repatriation. She testified about the problems in her family when asked specifically about them, but when asked what she did not like about Mexico, she responded that she did not like the people because she lived in a small town and the people were talking about her all the time. When asked what she likes about life away from Mexico, she said that she liked Texas "because it's pretty," and that she likes New York because of the tall buildings, her friends, and her family. When asked why she did not want to return to Mexico she responded, "Because I made friends here and I'm more comfortable here."Id. at 183:14-15.She elaborated that she is more comfortable here because her family is here. When asked if she had any worries or fears if she were to go back to Mexico, she responded, "[t]hat I don't-when I grow up I don't be a lawyer." When asked if she was afraid of anything in Mexico, she responded, "[j]ust that people are going to talk about me. The middle child also testified that she wants to stay in the United States because she will get a better education and have a chance to be a lawyer. These reasons expressed "a
well-adjustment to life in the United States and a simple preference for the luxuries of living in New York," which is not sufficient to establish the mature