In West v Dobrev, 2013 WL 5813749 (10th Cir, 2013) Petitioner West, a lawyer, was a citizen of Romania and the United States. Respondent Dobrev, a college professor, was a citizen of Bulgaria and the United States. The two were married in 2003 in Chicago, Illinois. They had two children, a female born January 27, 2004 and a male born January 12, 2006, both citizens of the United States. In June 2008, the couple and their children moved to Fontainbleau, France after Respondent accepted a teaching position at a local university. In May 2009, Petitioner filed for divorce in "Fontainbleau Departmental Court." In an interim order dated October 2009, the French court ordered the children to "remain in the usual home of the mother," and Respondent to pay for their support. Respondent left his position with the local university in early February 2010. Respondent, contrary to the court’s order, ceased support payments. In May 2010, Respondent accepted employment as a professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, but did not resume payments. In March 2010, Petitioner asked the French court for permission to move to Brussels, Belgium. Petitioner represented that "without resources, and after having searched in vain for employment in the U.S., she had to expand her search and ... found a job at the European Commission in [Brussels] Belgium." Respondent objected to Petitioner’s request. In a second interim order dated June 2010, the court "[a]uthorized the mother to move to Brussels as long as she notifie[d] her husband at least 15 days before leaving France." The court ordered the children to remain in the primary physical custody of their mother. Petitioner and her children moved to Brussels in August 2010. In the French proceeding, Respondent raised numerous arguments as to why the court should award him physical custody of the children. Respondent never argued that Petitioner abused the children, physically or psychologically. One of Respondent’s principal arguments was Petitioner hid her intention to move to Brussels with the children "where she prevents him from seeing his children." The French court was unpersuaded and in its final decree found:
Ms. West did not hide anything and ... took the precaution of obtaining [the] court’s authorization before moving. Such authorization was given by the decision of June 2, 2010....* * * Mr. Dobrev does not prove that the mother prevented him from seeing his children.... [T]he exchange of emails between the spouses submitted as evidence took back [Mr. Dobrev’s] initial consent of having the children enrolled at the European School in Brussels, indicating that he had enrolled the children instead at a school in the United States, and threatened the mother to bring them back to the United States. The French court found upon all the facts presented that the divorce was the "exclusive fault of Mr. Dobrev," and "in the context of joint exercising of parental authority [i.e., joint custody] the usual home of the children must be maintained at their mother’s home." At no time did Respondent appear to have contested the French court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter of the children’s custody. On July 24, 2012, four weeks after entry of the decree, Respondent waived his right to appeal, thereby finalizing the decree and terminating the French proceeding.
The Tenth Circuit pointed out that because Petitioner alleged a prima facie case for return of the children under Article 3 of the Convention and Respondent did not deny those allegations, the burden shifted to him to establish one of the affirmative defenses or "narrow exceptions set forth in the Convention." The Court was concerned only with the exception contained in Article 13(b): A court is not bound to return a child wrongfully retained or removed if the respondent establishes "by clear and convincing evidence," 42 U.S.C. § 11603(e)(2)(A), 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. "Grave risk" means the "potential harm to the child must be severe, and the level of risk and danger ... very high." Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 103 (2d Cir.2013). The Court held that whatever one must show to establish a "grave risk" to a child under Article 13(b) Respondent did not make that showing before the district court "by clear and convincing evidence."