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Friday, November 18, 2011

Dalsgaard v Montoya, 2011 WL 5037223 (M.D.Fla.) [Denmark] [Habitual Residence] [Wishes of the Child defense]

In Dalsgaard v Montoya, 2011 WL 5037223 (M.D.Fla.) the District Court granted the father’s petition under the Hague Convention for the return of his eight-year-old daughter to Denmark, which it found was the father's residence, the daughter's habitual residence, and the situs of the marriage, the divorce, and the creation and enforcement of the custody rights at issue.
Eight-year-old D.S.D. lived in Denmark since infancy. Her parents, Peter Dalsgaard and Denise Montoya, were divorcing, in Denmark. The parents shared joint custody of D.S.D., and under Danish law parents with joint custody must each consent to a child's remaining abroad. A March, 2011, agreement signed by both parents allowed D.S.D. to visit Montoya, who moved to the United States after the separation, from June 25, 2011, until August 1, 2011. On August 1st Dalsgaard flew to Tampa, Florida, to accompany his daughter during her return to Denmark in
accord both with the agreement and with Danish law. D.S.D. refused to return with her father; the preponderant evidence suggests Montoya and her family assented to, and perhaps fueled and encouraged, D.S.D.'s resistence. Dalsgaard returned to Denmark and gained full temporary custody of D.S.D. from the pertinent Danish authority. On September 28, 2011, Dalsgaard petitioned the District Court for D.S.D's return to Denmark under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. After a hearing the court orally ordered D.S.D. returned to Dalsgaard and to Denmark on Tuesday, October 25, 2011.
Montoya exerted no effort arguing that D.S.D.'s "habitual residence" is the United States. Nor could Montoya argue with any success that no retention occurred. "[T]he term 'retention' is meant to cover the circumstances where a child has been prevented from returning to h[er] usual family and social environment." Pielage, 516 F.3d at 1288. A "retention" began when without Dalsgaard's consent Montoya kept D.S.D. in the United States and away from "her usual family and social environment" after August 1st. Montoya protested that no "intentional" or "overt" retention occurred because she merely acquiesced to D.S.D.'s desire to remain. Although whether the retention is intentional is not controlling under the Convention, Montoya signed an agreement under which her eight-year-old was due back in Denmark on August 1st. The record was devoid of evidence that Montoya insisted or even urged D.S.D. to return to Denmark--certainly nothing suggests that Montoya attempted to enforce the agreement with the persistence, authority, and persuasion typifying the responsible parent of an eight-yearold. The Convention grants Montoya no presumption of neutral (let alone pristine) motivation. The retention that began August 2nd was "wrongful" under the Convention. A retention is not "wrongful" because of an abductor's intentions; a retention is "wrongful" because of a violation of a custody right in the child's habitual residence. D.S.D.'s habitual residence is Denmark, and the question is whether Montoya retained D .S.D. in contravention of Danish law. Under Chapter 1, Section 3 of the Danish Act on Parental Responsibility: (1) If the parents have joint custody, they must agree on significant decisions regarding the child. The parent with whom the child lives can make decisions about general day-to-day matters relating to the child, including where in Denmark the child will have his or her habitual place of residence. (2) If the parents have joint custody but disagree about the custody, they both have to give their consent for the child to leave the country.... They also have
to give their consent if the child's stay abroad ... is extended beyond the agreed, presumed, or specified duration, unless an agreement has been made according to section 17(1)....Under Chapter 3, Section 17, "(1) If the parents have joint custody and disagree about which parent the child should live with, the court will decide the matter.... (2) The court can change an agreement or a decision about a child's place of residence." A letter from the Department of Family Affairs to the State Department confirmed that under Danish law "[b]oth parents must [ ] consent if a child's stay in a foreign country is extended beyond what is decided or agreed." see Familiestyrelsen, Legislation and Rules, (last visited Oct. 22, 2011); Hague Convention, Art. 14 (permitting direct judicial notice of the law of the habitual residence).
Dalsgaard and Montoya's March, 2011, agreement declared joint custody and
provided that D.S.D. will visit the United States for "specified duration[s]." Unless a Danish court orders otherwise, Danish law required that Dalsgaard consent before D.S.D. remained outside Denmark for longer than the "agreed, presumed, [ ] specified duration."
The Court found that Montoya's retention of D.S.D. violated Danish law. A Danish state administration granted Dalsgaard temporary full custody, which further proved that Montoya retained D.S.D. in violation of the law of D.S.D.'s habitual residence. Also, Dalsgaard applied for temporary full custody on August 2nd, the day that Montoya's wrongful retention of D.S.D. began. Not that Montoya challenged the point, but the order confirmed that Dalsgaard unquestionably exercised his custody rights when the wrongful retention began.
Montoya claimed that Dalsgaard consented to the retention and that D.S.D. "objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is
appropriate to take account of [her] views." Montoya's argument that Dalsgaard consented to the retention required no attention because the only evidence of consent under the Hague Convention was the evidence that fails to show consent under Danish law, namely, the "re-assessment" provision of the March, 2011, agreement. The one difference is the burden of proof; under Article 13 of the Hague Convention and ICARA, Montoya had to demonstrate consent by a preponderance of the evidence. No evidence showed that Dalsgaard consented under Danish law to D.S.D.'s move to
the United States. That left D.S.D.'s state of mind and "degree of maturity." The burden was again Montoya's by a preponderance of the evidence, though even if D.S.D. was mature and objected to return, application of the exception was not mandatory. The Court indicated that before the evidentiary hearing, an hour and twenty minute in camera interview of D.S.D. transpired; no lawyers and no parents. Although a vibrant, cheerful, and delightful guest in chambers, D.S .D. when questioned had little to say about her parents' dispute. D.S.D. expressed in head nods and one-word sentences a preference to remain in the United States. Her reticent and laconic responses (she had plenty to say about other matters) left the depth and sophistication of her conviction, and the maturity behind her conviction, highly doubtful. Contributing to this doubt, Montoya conceded that D.S.D. was "in a lot of turmoil right now" and "has to digest a lot of things." Montoya admitted also that D.S.D.'s desire to
remain in the United States wavered. Dalsgaard asserted that D.S.D.'s preference to remain in the United States was the product of Montoya and her family's influence. Montoya denied that D.S.D. experienced untoward manipulation. Based on her testimony, however, Montoya conspicuously failed to explain to D.S.D. that D.S.D. was supposed to return to Dalsgaard on August 1st. The evidence suggested that Montoya allowed a belief to fester in D.S.D. that returning to Denmark betrayed Montoya. The point was, even if Montoya inflicted no "undue" influence, D.S.D. behaved as if she believes she must elect between her parents, and her unenviable position obviously agonized her. Head nods and monosyllables in favor of the status quo--an eight-year-old's best effort at a balance of terror–was the closest D.S.D. can get to appearing to favor neither parent. The sentiments of a perspicacious district judge addressing a Hague Convention petition for a ten-year-old boy resonate. D.S.D. was not afraid of the girlfriend, who in fact treated D.S.D. well by D.S.D.'s own account.
The Court concluded that D.S.D.'s distressing story fully justified an order to return.

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