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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oddy v Morris, 2012 WL 464227 (D.Hawaii) [United Kingdom][Grave Risk of Harm]

In Oddy v Morris, 2012 WL 464227 (D.Hawaii) Christopher Oddy ("Petitioner") filed an Emergency Verified Petition for Return of Children to the United Kingdom. Petitioner and Respondent were married on April 11, 2003 in the United Kingdom; Petitioner is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Respondent is a citizen of the United States. The children were born in the County of Poole, United Kingdom, and are citizens of the United Kingdom and the United States. Petitioner and Respondent were divorced in the Bournemouth County Court in the United Kingdom on October 7, 2009. The Bournemouth County Court did not make any orders with respect to parental responsibility, residence or contact at the time of the parties' divorce. Petitioner stated that, under English law, specifically the Children Act 1989, he and Respondent share equally parental responsibility of both
children. According to Petitioner, the following acts took place in 2010 and 2011: On March 17, 2010, the Mother [Respondent] had filed an application in the United Kingdom's High Court of Justice, Family Division, Bournemouth District Registry (the "English Court"), requesting permission to permanently remove the children from the United Kingdom. A trial was scheduled for December 2 and 3, 2010 on the Mother's application. As a result of the Mother's application for permanent removal having been filed, the English Court ordered that a report be prepared by the Children and Family Reporter, Mrs. Pat Holmes. Mrs. Holmes prepared her report dated October 8, 2010 and submitted it to the English Court. After the report was submitted to the English Court, a hearing was held before His Honour Judge Meston Q.C. on October 25, 2010. Judge Meston had reviewed both parties' submissions, reviewed the report prepared by the Children and Family Reporter and had heard from counsel for both parties with respect to agreements reached between the parties. At the hearing on October 25, 2010, the English Court issued a Residence and Contact Order on October 25, 2010. . The Residence and Contact Order provided hat the children shall reside with the Mother in the United Kingdom and set out a detailed and extensive schedule of contact for the Father in the United Kingdom. No order was made with respect to the parents' ex lege joint parental responsibility pursuant to the Children Act 1989. The Residence and Contact Order provided hat the Mother's application to permanently remove the children from the United Kingdom would be withdrawn and that the trial on her application scheduled for December 2-3, 2010 be vacated.
Thereafter the parties functioned pursuant to the Residence and Contact Order, which did not address the issue of parental responsibility, and both parties continued to share parental responsibility under the Children Act. Because the parties were both the parents of the children and no court suspended or otherwise terminated either party's parental responsibility, the parties continue to share parental responsibility for the children under the Children Act by operation of law. The Residence and Contact Order provides as follows with respect to removing the children from the United Kingdom: "WARNING: Where a Residence Order is in force no person may cause the child to be known by a new surname or remove the child from the United Kingdom without written consent of every person with parental responsibility for the child or the leave of court. However, this does not prevent the removal of the child for a period of less than one month by the person in whose favor the Residence Order is made (Sections 13(1) and (2) Children Act 1989). It may be a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act of 1984 to remove the child from the United Kingdom without the leave of the court." After the issuance of the Residence and Contact Order, the parties and children continued to reside in the United Kingdom and followed the schedule for residence and contact set out in the Residence and Contact Order. The Father was scheduled to have his regularly scheduled time with the children on July 30, 2011 and was also scheduled to begin his summer holiday time with the
children on August 1, 2011. When the Father went to pick up the children on July 30, 2011, he discovered that the Mother's home was completely empty. Immediately upon discovering that the Mother's home was completely empty, the Father began searching for the children and reaching out to family and friends for help locating his daughters. The Father learned from one of the Mother's friends that the Mother had taken the children to Hawaii and later confirmed from other friends and relatives that the Mother had taken the children to Hawaii.
The testimony and evidence presented at the hearing supported these facts as set forth in the Petition. The Court found that Petitioner established that he had parental responsibility for the children and did not consent to their removal from their habitual residence in the United Kingdom. Respondent did not obtain leave of court before she removed the children from the United Kingdom, and, since the removal of the children, Petitioner had not acquiesced to their removal or retention.
Based on the evidence presented, the Court found that Respondent had not met her burden of establishing that the children were at grave risk of harm if returned to the United Kingdom. The evidence that Petitioner was physically, verbally, and mentally abusive to Respondent during the course of their marriage and thereafter was troubling. Respondent testified regarding Petitioner's history of alcohol abuse and anger management issues, and its effect on the family. The Court found Respondent's
testimony credible with respect to her fear of Petitioner's angry outbursts and threats of violence against her and her friends. Respondent also presented credible evidence that the children witnessed verbal confrontations and disagreements between their parents, which may have affected the children psychologically and emotionally. Specifically, a 2006 incident in which Petitioner physically kicked and struck Respondent in front of the oldest child and destroyed household property, and subsequently pleaded guilty to breaching the peace and criminal property damage, and an April 2011 incident at Waterloo Station in which Petitioner verbally threatened Respondent and a third-party in front of the children during a custody exchange. The Court also heard testimony regarding an April 2011 incident during which the younger child was injured while in Petitioner's care. The parties disputed the cause and severity of the injury to the child's elbow. Respondent maintained that Petitioner yanked
the child up by her arm as she resisted having her diaper changed; Petitioner contended the injury was the result of normal play with the children. Respondent faulted Petitioner for waiting several hours between the time of the injury and when he eventually sought medical care for the child the next morning. A hospital record indicated the following history of the presenting complaint: "[p]laying when getting nappy changed L. arm around her elbow very painful and not moving it, very upset in triage." The Court found that the parties' respective views of the incident were reconcilable based on the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, and credited each. Respondent also recounted another recent incident in which the older child became ill while playing outside with Petitioner during poor weather conditions, and detailed her concerns regarding Petitioner's parenting capabilities. It was clear that the parties' relationship was troubled both during and after their marriage, when Petitioner was abusive toward Respondent, and that Respondent believed that matters were deteriorating in the months before she removed the children. The Court, however, found that, as troubling as this behavior may be, Respondent had not established for purposes of the article 13(b) analysis that the children would suffer "serious abuse that is a great deal more than minimal." Gaudin, 415 F.3d at 1035; see also Whallon v. Lynn, 230 F.3d 450, 460 (1st Cir.2000) (stating that a husband's "verbal abuse and an incident of physical shoving" directed at his wife, while regrettable, was insufficient to establish a "grave risk" of harm to the child, especially where there was no allegation that the father had ever abused the child, either physically or psychologically). The Court considered the alleged psychological harm suffered by the children and found that, while regrettable and unacceptable, any such harm did not to rise to the level required for sustaining an article 13(b) exception. See Whallon, 230 F.3d at 460 ("The logic, purpose, and text of the Convention all mean that such harms are not per se the type of psychological harm contemplated by the narrow exception under article 13(b). To conclude otherwise would risk substituting a best interest of the child
analysis for the analysis the Convention requires. This would undercut the Convention's presumption of return where rights of custody have been violated....").
Based on the foregoing, the Court granted the Petition.

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