New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook

The New York Matrimonial Trial Handbook by Joel R. Brandes is available in Bookstores and online in the print edition at the Bookbaby Bookstore, Amazon Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other online book sellers. It is also available in Kindle ebook editions and epub ebook editions for all ebook readers in our website 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 on this link for more information about the contents of the book and on this link for the complete table of contents.

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 http://www.nysdivorce.com 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.


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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Souratgar v. Fair, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 2631375 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) [Singapore] [Grave Risk of Harm] [Fundamental Freedoms]

In Souratgar v. Fair, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 2631375 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) Lee Jen Fair appealed the grant of a petition brought by her husband Abdollah Naghash Souratgar for repatriation of their son from New York to Singapore. In May 2012, Lee removed the boy to Dutchess County, New York, in direct violation of a Singapore court order. The District Court granted Souratgar's petition pursuant to the Hague Convention.(Souratgar v. Lee Jen Fair, No. 12 CV 7797(PKC), 2012 WL 6700214 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2012). The Second Circuit affirmed rejecting her “grave risk of harm” and “fundamental freedoms’ defenses.

Four-year-old Shayan, was born in Singapore in January 2009 to Lee and Souratgar, who were both residents of that country. Souratgar was an Iranian national who has owned a business in Singapore since 1989. Lee was a Malaysian national. She converted to Islam, Souratgar's faith, just prior to their marriage in Singapore in 2007. Shayan was a citizen of Malaysia with Malaysian and Iranian passports. At the district court hearing, the parties traded accusations and denials of domestic abuse. Souratgar accused Lee, among other things, of biting him, repeatedly threatening him with a knife and chopper, having suicidal tendencies, and inflicting injuries on herself. Lee asserted in her testimony more serious allegations-that Souratgar repeatedly slapped, beat, shook, and kicked her, and that he forced her to perform sex acts against her will. The district court found spousal abuse by Souratgar, including "shouting and offensive name-calling," and several incidents of physical abuse in which he "kicked, slapped, grabbed, and hit" . The district court found no credible evidence of any harm directed against the child. Both parties acknowledged the other's love for Shayan, and was not disputed that the boy dearly loves both of his parents. In April 2011, when Shayan was two, Lee filed an ex parte application in the Singapore High Court for sole custody. On May 16, the Subordinate Court of Singapore issued an ex parte order directing Souratgar to hand over Shayan's passports and personal documents to Lee and barring Souratgar from removing the child from Singapore without court approval and Lee's knowledge or consent. Souratgar complied with the order, denied Lee's charges, and cross-applied for sole custody. While the custody proceedings were pending in Singapore, Lee moved out of the marital home with Shayan and refused to disclose their whereabouts to Souratgar. He eventually found them in Malaysia, where Lee denied him access to the boy. Souratgar then filed a custody application in the Syariah Court of Malaysia, which granted joint custody to the couple in early July. Thereafter, Lee succeeded in obtaining a dismissal of that order from the Malaysian Syariah Court for lack of jurisdiction. After Lee and Shayan returned to Singapore, the custody proceedings in Singapore's Subordinate Court resumed. Following a mediation session on July 14, 2011, the Subordinate Court barred either parent from removing Shayan from Singapore without the other's consent and ordered interim supervised visitation for Souratgar at Singapore's Centre for Family Harmony. Following another mediation session on February 16, 2012, both parties agreed to a consent order by the Subordinate Court to have custody decided by the Syariah Court of Singapore. In the meantime, Shayan remained in Lee's care, while Souratgar's visitation time was doubled. In late 2011, Lee had filed for divorce in Singapore's Syariah Court and used that proceeding to dismiss the temporary joint custody order of the Malaysian Syariah Court. On May 20, 2012, Lee removed Shayan from Singapore, in violation of the Singapore Subordinate Court's order.

Souratgar, through a private investigator, eventually located Lee and Shayan in Dutchess County, and on October 18, 2012 filed an ex parte application in the district court under the Convention for Shayan's return to Singapore. The district court heard testimony from nine witnesses over a nine-day evidentiary hearing, and on December 26, granted Souratgar's petition. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. The parties did not dispute either that Singapore was the country of Shayan's habitual residence or that his removal from Singapore was wrongful under the Convention. The issue on appeal was whether the two affirmative defenses that Lee raised under Articles 13(b) and 20 of the Convention precluded repatriation. Under Article 13(b), the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if [the party opposing repatriation] establishes that ... there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation. Under Article 20, repatriation also "may be refused if this would not be permitted by the fundamental principles of the requested State relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms." The respondent parent opposing the return of the child has the burden of establishing "by clear and convincing evidence that one of the exceptions set forth in article 13b or 20 of the Convention applies." 42 U.S.C.§ 11603(e)(2)(A). Subsidiary facts may be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.. The Second Circuit observed that it reviews the district court's interpretation of the Convention de novo and its factual determinations for clear error. Its "review under the 'clearly erroneous' standard is significantly deferential." Concrete Pipe & Prods. of Cal., Inc. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Trust for S. Cal., 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993). It must accept the trial court's findings unless it has a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed."

The Second Circuit rejected Lee’s argument that returning Shayan to Singapore would expose him to "a grave risk" of "physical or psychological harm" or "otherwise place him in an intolerable situation" and that the district court's finding to the contrary was error. The harms he could face upon return, she asserted, were (1) exposure to spousal abuse; (2) direct abuse from his father; or (3) the loss of his mother. The Court found that Lee's arguments were permeated with conjecture and speculation and that there was no error in the district court's determination that Lee had failed to meet her burden to establish the Article 13(b) defense.

The Second Circuit held that under Article 13(b), a grave risk of harm from repatriation arises in two situations: "(1) where returning the child means sending him to a zone of war, famine, or disease; or (2) in cases of serious abuse or neglect, or extraordinary emotional dependence, when the court in the country of habitual residence, for whatever reason, may be incapable or unwilling to give the child adequate protection." Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 162. The potential harm to the child must be severe, and the the level of risk and danger required to trigger this exception has consistently been held to be very high. The grave risk involves not only the magnitude of the potential harm but also the probability that the harm will materialize. This grave risk' exception is to be interpreted narrowly, lest it swallow the rule. The Second Circuit indicated that while many cases for relief under the Convention arise from a backdrop of domestic strife spousal abuse is only relevant under Article 13(b) if it seriously endangers the child. The Article 13(b) inquiry is not whether repatriation would place the respondent parent's safety at grave risk, but whether so doing would subject the child to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm. The exception to repatriation has been found where the petitioner showed a sustained pattern of physical abuse and/or a propensity for violent abuse that presented an intolerably grave risk to the child. Evidence of prior spousal abuse, though not directed at the child, can support the grave risk of harm defense, as could a showing of the child's exposure to such abuse. Evidence of this kind, however, is not dispositive in these fact-intensive cases. Sporadic or isolated incidents of physical discipline directed at the child, or some limited incidents aimed at persons other than the child, even if witnessed by the child, have not been found to constitute a grave risk. In this case, the district court found that, while Lee was subjected to domestic abuse on certain occasions, albeit less than she claimed, at no time was Shayan harmed or targeted. The Court noted that it has held that Article 13(b) relief could be granted if repatriation posed a grave risk of causing unavoidable psychological harm to the child. See Blondin IV, 238 F.3d at 160-61 (affirming denial of petition to repatriate after an expert psychologist opined that returning the boy and girl to France, where they had been abused by their father, would likely trigger recurrence of PTSD, and that no arrangement could mitigate this risk). The holding in Blondin IV depended on the fact, due to the nature of the potential harm at issue, recurrence of PTSD that would occur as soon as the children entered France, there was nothing the courts could do to prevent it. In this case, there was nothing in the record beyond speculation that Shayan would suffer unavoidable psychological harm if returned to Singapore. Neither party nor the guardian ad litem requested a psychological evaluation of the boy, and the guardian ad litem reported, after observing Shayan's interactions with both parents and interviewing him separately, that the boy appeared to be an active and happy child, who seemed distressed about the difficulties between his parents. Shayan expressed unqualified love for both parents and indicated that he was never physically disciplined and never saw or heard either parent hit the other or try to hurt the other parent. In contrast, the girl in Blondin IV had herself been abused and expressed fear of her father. The circuit court cases affirming denial of repatriation cited by Lee were distinguishable in that the petitioning parent had actually abused, threatened to abuse, or inspired fear in the children in question.

The Court emphasized that it on held “ that in this case, the evidence, which did not match the showing in those cases, did not establish that the child faced a grave risk of physical or psychological harm upon repatriation. Lee contended that the district court erred in discounting the likelihood that Shayan would be exposed to renewed domestic strife and suffer grievous psychological harm upon his return to Singapore. She also faulted the district court for refusing to credit expert testimony characterizing Souratgar as having a coercive and controlling personality type with a tendency to hurt women and children. At the hearing, the district court heard a psychological expert describe abusive spouses of the "coercive control" type and of the "situational" type and placed Souratgar in the former category. The coercive control type is said to demand domination and control and grows more dangerous upon separation from the victim. On this basis, the expert concluded that Souratgar still posed an "extreme danger" to Lee even though they had been estranged for more than a year. The experts assessment of Souratgar was based entirely on Lee's answers to a survey, which the district court found to contain inaccuracies. The district court therefore discredited the experts conclusions. There was no basis in the record for disagreement with the district court's finding.

The Second Circuit held that for it “to hold evidence of spousal conflict alone, without a clear and convincing showing of grave risk of harm to the child, to be sufficient to decline repatriation, would unduly broaden the Article 13(b) defense and undermine the central premise of the Convention: that wrongfully removed children be repatriated so that questions over their custody can be decided by courts in the country where they habitually reside. Our holding today is not that abuse of the kind described by Lee can never entitle a respondent to an Article 13(b) defense; rather it depends on the district court's finding that Shayan would not be in danger of being exposed to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm and that the Singapore court system has demonstrated its ability to adjudicate the dispute over his custody.” It found no clear error in the district court's finding that the facts did not indicate a grave risk of harm to the child in this particular instance.

Lee also contended that Shayan faced a direct risk of harm from his father, who, having been abusive to Lee, was also likely to turn on Shayan, citing the description of the "coercive control" type in the social science literature that draws certain correlations between perpetrators of spousal abuse and child abuse. However, given the problems with the experts methodology in type-casting Souratgar, the lack of any indicia of ill-will on the part of Souratgar toward Shayan, and contrary credited evidence of a loving father-son relationship, there was no clear and convincing showing that the boy faced a grave risk of harm from his father. Lee also posited various scenarios in which the boy would be deprived of his mother post-repatriation. She claimed Souratgar may (a) resort to Syariah court proceedings in Singapore or Malaysia to win custody outright; (b) abscond with Shayan to Iran; or (c) expose her to the charge of apostasy (leaving the Muslim faith), a religious crime punishable by death in her home country of Malaysia. The district court dismissed these claims as lacking factual support. As an initial matter, the Second Circuit held that the court could not conclude that the prospect that one parent may lose custody of the child, post-repatriation, necessarily constitutes a grave risk to the child under the Convention. Since the Convention defers the determination of custody to courts in the country where the child habitually resides, it is quite conceivable that in some cases one or the other parent may lose legal custody after repatriation and be deprived of access to the child. Thus, the possible loss of access by a parent to the child does not constitute a grave risk of harm per se for Article 13(b) purposes. Even assuming that the prospect of the child losing his mother posed a grave risk to the child's well-being, there was no basis to disturb the district court's finding that Lee had not made a clear and convincing showing that any of the scenarios that she raised was likely to occur.

The Second Circuit pointed out that the Article 20 defense allows repatriation to be denied when it "would not be permitted by the fundamental principles of the requested State relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms." This defense is to be "restrictively interpreted and applied." Article 20 is a unique formulation that embodies a political compromise among the states that negotiated the Convention, which might never have been adopted otherwise.. The defense is to be invoked only on the rare occasion that return of a child would utterly shock the conscience of the court or offend all notions of due process. It is not to be used as a vehicle for litigating custody on the merits or for passing judgment on the political system of the country from which the child was removed. This defense has yet to be used by a federal court to deny a petition for repatriation. Lee argued that Syariah Courts are incompatible with the principles "relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms" of this country. The Second Circuit declined to make this categorical ruling as a legal matter. Moreover, Lee failed to show that the issue of custody was likely to be litigated before Singapore's Syariah Court. Given that failure, it was not inclined to conclude simply that the presence of a Syariah Court in a foreign state whose accession to the Convention has been recognized by the United States is per se violative of "all notions of due process.” It noted that such a holding would contradict the State Department's view expressed upon Singapore's accession as a bilateral partner under the Convention, that Singapore is a "role model" among states in the region. It was also mindful of the need for comity, as the careful and thorough fulfillment of our treaty obligations stands not only to protect children abducted to the United States, but also to protect American children abducted to other nations-whose courts, under the legal regime created by this treaty, are expected to offer reciprocal protection. In the exercise of comity, we are required to place our trust in the court of the home country to issue whatever orders may be necessary to safeguard children who come before it. For all of the above reasons, it concluded that the district court did not err in rejecting Lee's Article 20 defense.

Guzzo v. Cristofano, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 2476835 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) [Italy] [Habitual Residence]

In Guzzo v. Cristofano, --- F.3d ----, 2013 WL 2476835 (C.A.2 (N.Y.)) the Second Circuit observed that the Hague Convention uses the terms "habitual residence" and "habitually resident" in a practical way, referring to the country where a child usually or customarily lives. The term is not equivalent to the American legal concept of "domicile," which relies principally on intent. Nonetheless, when parents move temporarily to another country, without agreeing to change the child's principal place of residence, a petitioner claiming that the new location has become the child's "habitual residence" must show that the child has "acclimated" to that country. Gitter v. Gitter, 396 F.3d 124, 134 (2d Cir.2005). The petitioner in this case failed to show that the parents agreed to settle in Italy, and he did not attempt to show that the child had acclimated there. Accordingly, the district court properly denied the petition for return of the child. Petitioner-appellant Gerardo Guzzo ("Father") was an Italian citizen and resident of Scario, Italy, and respondent-appellee Luisa Maria Cristofano (the "Mother") was a United States citizen and resident of New York. They met in September 2005 onboard a flight from New York to Italy and began visiting each other regularly and discussing the prospect of marriage. In January 2006, the Mother discovered that she was pregnant. She soon visited the Father in Italy, where they resumed discussions about whether to get married in New York or Italy. The Father and Mother eventually agreed to marry in New York while maintaining their respective residences in Italy and New York. In September 2006, their child was born. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the District Court found that from 2006 to 2007 the parties maintained their "bi-continental marriage," each parent visiting the other on numerous occasions, and in December 2007 the parties agreed that the Mother and the child would live primarily in Italy with the Father but return periodically to New York. During this time, however, the parents' relationship became increasingly tumultuous. In February 2009, the Mother took the child to New York and told the Father that she wanted a separation. Over the next few months, the parents negotiated a separation agreement (the "Separation Agreement"), which the Mother signed in English on May 20, 2009, and which the Father signed in Italian on June 10, 2009. As relevant here, the Separation Agreement provided that the parents would " 'continue to live separate and apart,' " that the Mother would " 'have custody[ ] of the minor child,' " and that the child would attend school at the Good Counsel Academy in White Plains, New York. Guzzo v. Cristofano, No. 11 Civ. 7394(RJS), 2011 WL 6934108, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 2011) The Separation Agreement also established a visitation schedule, which provided that the child would spend at least two months each year in Italy with the Father. Soon after signing the Separation Agreement, the Mother returned to Italy with the child. As the District Court explained, the Mother "testified that her trip to Italy was undertaken as an attempt at reconciliation with [the Father], but that she was only willing to make the attempt because she had the protection of the Separation Agreement." The Mother also testified that "regardless of the reconciliation attempt, she never intended to have the child attend primary school in Italy and that she always planned to live with the child in New York once he was in kindergarten." With only intermittent vacations, including several trips to New York, the child continued to live in Italy, where he attended nursery school. In November 2010, the Mother took the child to New York with the intention of not returning to Italy. The following month, the parents agreed to make another attempt at reconciliation, and the Mother moved back to Italy in January 2011 with the child. The effort was unsuccessful. In August 2011, the Mother returned with the child to New York, where they have lived ever since. The Mother also initiated divorce proceedings in Westchester County, New York. The Father initiated this action under the Hague Convention in October 2011, alleging that the Mother had wrongfully removed the child from Italy in August 2011. The District Court held a three-day bench trial and denied the petition, concluding that the Father had not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Italy, rather than the United States, was the child's country of "habitual residence." Guzzo, 2011 WL 6934108, at *4. The District Court began by restating the two-part test for determining a child's habitual residence. (citing Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134). Under that test, a court must first "inquire into the shared intent of those entitled to fix the child's residence ... at the [last] time that their intent was shared." If a court concludes that the parents did not intend to change a child's habitual residence, it then must assess "whether the evidence unequivocally points to the conclusion" that the child has acclimated to the new location, notwithstanding the parents' intentions. The District Court noted that the Father had rested his petition entirely on the first prong, arguing that the parents had agreed to change the child's habitual residence to Italy; he had explicitly abandoned any argument that the child had acclimated to life in Italy. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the District Court determined that the parents' Settlement Agreement in 2009 exhibited their last shared intent regarding the child's usual residence. Although the Mother had moved to Italy with the child after signing the agreement, and had attempted to reconcile with the Father, the Court found "no evidence that the attempted reconciliation, in and of itself, altered the [Settlement] [A]greement in any way." The Court also found the Father's testimony that the parents reconciled in June 2009 and formed a new shared opinion that the child would live in Italy to be "not credible." The Court further concluded that "[d]espite the parties' apparently sincere attempts at reconciliation, the evidence demonstrates that [the Mother] never contemplated spending her life in Italy or having the child attend Italian schools following preschool." With respect to the child's attendance at nursery school in Italy, the Court found that the Mother had "testified credibly that, regardless of the outcome of the attempted reconciliation, she intended to send the child to kindergarten in New York." The Mother also refused to register her marriage with Italian authorities, which would have enabled her to obtain Italian public health insurance. And the child "did not have Italian medical insurance, but rather was insured through Medicaid and received his primary medical treatment in the United States." After reviewing the relevant case law, the Court concluded that "the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that, following the execution of the Separation Agreement, the parties never shared an intention to make Italy the child's habitual residence." The Second Circuit observed that "Habitual residence," as one court has observed, "is the central-often outcome-determinative-concept on which the entire [Hague Convention] system is founded." Understood in an ordinary and nontechnical way, a child's "habitual residence" is simply the place where he usually or customary lives.'[I]n their natural and ordinary meaning[,] the words mean that the person must be habitually and normally resident [in that country], apart from temporary or occasional absences of long or short duration.' " Mozes, 239 F.3d at 1073. Or, put another way, "we might say that if we observe someone centering his life around a particular location during a given period, so that every time he goes away from it he also comes back, we will call this his habitual residence." Under the Hague Convention, a petitioner bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence a child's habitual residence at the time of the contested removal. Mota v. Castilo, 692 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir.2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. s 11603(e)(1)(A)). ( The Court observed in a footnote that parents cannot stipulate to habitual residency, see Barzilay v. Barzilay, 600 F.3d 912, 920 (8th Cir.2010). Determining a child's habitual residence often becomes difficult when parents move a child from one country to another, raising the question of which country is the "habitual residence" of the child. In evaluating these cases, the Court has looked to the intent of the parents as a particularly important factor in understanding the context of a child's move to another country. As it explained: Focusing on intentions gives contour to the objective, factual circumstances surrounding the child's presence in a given location. This approach allows an observer to determine whether the child's presence at a given location is intended to be temporary, rather than permanent. Accordingly, "we will presume that a child's habitual residence is consistent with the intentions of those entitled to fix the child's residence at the time those intentions were mutually shared." At the same time, however, "parental intent cannot alone establish a child's habitual residence," nor can it prevent a habitual residence from changing. Instead, a child's habitual residence changes when the child becomes settled in another country, even if one or both of the parents intend for the child to return to the original country of habitual residence. As the Court has explained: "The question in these cases is not simply whether the child's life in the new country shows some minimal degree of settled purpose, but whether we can say with confidence that the child's relative attachments to the two countries have changed to the point where requiring return to the original forum would now be tantamount to taking the child out of the family and social environment in which its life has developed." In other words, the Court asks: "[W]ould returning the children ... be tantamount to sending them home?" Accordingly, although "[n]ormally the shared intent of the parents should control the habitual residence of the child," that intent is not controlling when "the evidence unequivocally points to the conclusion that the child has [acclimated] to the new location." Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134. The two-step framework is flexible enough to account for the varied circumstances of individual cases. When applying this framework, the age of the child and the time spent in the respective countries can affect how much weight a court should place on parental intent. For instance, parental intentions become less relevant the longer a child remains in the new environment. In fact, once a child has "been living in one country ... for a sufficiently long period," then "questions as to the purpose of the residence become irrelevant,". Accordingly, although it makes sense to " 'regard the intentions of the parents as affecting the length of time necessary for a child to become habitually resident, because the child's knowledge of these intentions is likely to color its attitude toward the contacts it is making,' " courts must not forget that the core concern of "habitual residence" is where a child normally or usually lives. Once a court " 'can say with confidence' " that the child has become settled into a new environment, habitual residence in that country is established. Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134. [It noted in a footnote that when a child is younger, with less sense of the surrounding environment, courts place more emphasis on the intentions of the parents. The Court summarized its rule as follows: "[t]o determine which country is a child's country of habitual residence under the Hague Convention, we apply the two-part test set forth in Gitter v. Gitter." We "begin an analysis of a child's habitual residence by considering the relevant intentions," because "[f]ocusing on intentions gives contour to the objective, factual circumstances surrounding the child's presence in a given location." We "presume that a child's habitual residence is consistent with the intention of those entitled to fix the child's residence at the time those intentions were mutually shared." This presumption can be overcome, however, if the evidence shows that a child is settled into (or, "acclimated" to) the new environment-a burden that is more easily satisfied the longer a child has lived in that country. When considering these two steps, the court must not lose sight of the fact that the framework is designed simply to ascertain where a child usually or customarily lives. The Second Circuit held that "a determination of habitual residence under Article 3 of the Hague Convention is a mixed question of law and fact, under which it reviews essentially factual questions for clear error and the ultimate issue of habitual residence de novo. It concludes that a district court "clearly erred" only if a review of the record "leave[s] us with 'the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.' " Hofmann, 2013 WL 1955846, at *8 (quoting Mota, 692 F.3d at 114). Even assuming that the child was habitually resident in Italy prior to 2009, the Second Circuit concluded that his habitual residence changed to the United States after the parties reached the Settlement Agreement in May and June of 2009. Habitual residence depends on a combination of parental intent and physical presence, but when a child is very young, the shared intent of the parents is of paramount importance. It found no clear error in the District Court's finding that the Separation Agreement-signed by the Mother and Father in May 2009 and June 2009, respectively-demonstrated the parents' shared intent for the child to live primarily in New York. Moreover, the child, who was then less than three years old, had been living with the Mother in New York for several months. Because the child was living in New York, and because the parents agreed that he would continue to reside in New York, the child, in light of his age, was habitually resident in the United States at the time of the Settlement Agreement. The Second Circuit rejected the fathers argument that the Settlement Agreement was invalid under Italian and New York law and therefore cannot support the District Court's finding of shared intent. Regardless of whether the document was enforceable in state court, it was nevertheless clearly probative of the parties 'last shared intent' for the purposes of determining habitual residence under ICARA. The Father acknowledged at trial that when he signed the Agreement he understood (1) its terms; (2) that it provided for the child's residence in New York; and (3) that it would be legally binding, even though he hoped to reconcile with the Mother. Accordingly, the Court found no clear error in the District Court's finding regarding the parents' shared intent that the child would reside in New York. Having found no error in the District Court's determination that the child was habitually resident in the United States at the time of the Settlement Agreement in 2009, the Second Circuit found the child did not become habitually resident in Italy following his return to that country in the summer of 2009. At the first step of the Gitter test, the Court asked whether the evidence offered at trial showed settled mutual intent from which abandonment of the prior habitual residence could be inferred. When considering this issue, "the court should look ... at actions as well as declarations." Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134. Clearly, this was one of those questions of historical and narrative facts in which the findings of the district court are entitled to great deference. See Hofmann, 2013 WL 1955846, at *8 ("The last shared intent of the parents is a question of fact, and the district court's determination in that regard is reviewed for clear error and thus entitled to deference."). Having reviewed the record and the parties' submissions, the Court concluded that the District Court's findings were "amply supported by the record, and there was nothing leaving it with 'the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Hofmann, 2013 WL 1955846, at *8 (quoting Mota, 692 F.3d at 114). Although the Mother agreed to the child's return to Italy and attendance at an Italian nursery school, the District Court found credible the Mother's testimony that her stay in Italy was temporary, and that she consistently intended to return to New York for the child to begin kindergarten. Record evidence amply supported this conclusion. For instance, the Mother and the child entered Italy on temporary tourist visas, and they registered for health care in New York even though eligible for public health insurance in Italy. The District Court also credited the Mother's testimony that "her willingness to attempt a reconciliation in Italy was clearly premised on the understanding that, should the reconciliation prove unsuccessful, the parties would continue to abide by the terms of the agreement." Guzzo, 2011 WL 6934108, at *9. Indeed, the Mother returned to New York with the child in November 2010, with the stated expectation of staying permanently in the United States, before she agreed to make another attempt at reconciliation with the Father the following month. Accordingly, it did not disturb the District Court's finding that the parents never shared an intent for their child to abandon his prior habitual residence in the United States. The Court pointed out that second step in the Gitter framework is to examine whether, notwithstanding a lack of shared parental intent to change the child's long-term residence, the child was nonetheless sufficiently settled into (or, "acclimated" to) the new environment such that returning the child to that environment would "be tantamount to sending [him] home." In this case, the five-year-old child lived mostly in Italy from soon after his birth in 2006 until his removal in 2011, and he regularly attended nursery school there. If it were properly raised in this appeal, the Court stated that it might conclude that the child was "acclimated" to living in Italy, that is, it might be able to say with confidence that the child's usual or customary place of residence was Italy, notwithstanding any parental intentions to the contrary. Gitter, 396 F.3d at 134. However, the Court did not address this issue, however, because the Father did not preserve any argument that the child was acclimated to Italy.