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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Prouse v. Thoreson, 2012 WL 5199182 (W.D.Wis.) [Italy] [Habitual Residence

In Prouse v. Thoreson, 2012 WL 5199182 (W.D.Wis.) Petitioner Giorgio Prouse brought an action against his wife, respondent Robin Thoreson under the Hague Convention, petitioning for the return of his minor daughter to Milan, Italy.

The district court denied the petition. It pointed out that before respondent brought their daughter to the United States. Petitioner Dr. Giorgio Prouse and respondent Robin Thoreson were married and the parents of an eight-year-old child, JP. Petitioner lived in Milan, Italy, and worked as a cardiovascular surgeon. Until December 2011, respondent lived in Milan and worked as a flight attendant out of Chicago, Illinois. JP was born in Milan and lived there with her parents for most of her life. JP visited the United States regularly during her school breaks and spent time here with her maternal grandparents. In the summer and fall of 2011, while petitioner was still completing his residency program, the family began experiencing financial difficulties. Throughout 2011, the parties discussed various living arrangements after petitioner completed his residency in 2012. The parties agreed that respondent and JP would go to the United States, where JP could attend the local school and live with respondent's parents while respondent worked. On December 28, 2011, respondent and JP flew to the United States. They moved in with respondent's parents in Beloit, Wisconsin, where JP began attending school in the local school district. Respondent's parents cared for JP while respondent lived during the week in Chicago. Respondent made a trip back to Milan in early January to finish cleaning their previous home and to bring some of the family pets to the United States. When respondent and JP left Italy, petitioner listed the family's home for sale or lease and entered into a four-year lease with the right to renew the lease for four additional years. Next, he moved into the family's old apartment, a small one-bedroom below ground unit adjacent to his mother's home. Finally, he wrote JP's school in Milan and informed the administrators that JP would no longer be in attendance due to "our move" to the United States for "sudden, unexpected reasons of work ." (Petitioner said that he referred to "our move" only in an attempt to persuade the school to refund a portion of JP's tuition that he had already paid.) Petitioner, respondent and JP visited each other in the United States and Italy in the following months. Petitioner visited the United States in January 2012 for JP's birthday. At that time he asked respondent to book the return portion of his flight for August "when returning to Italy would be difficult. He made no mention of taking JP back to Milan with him in August or any other time. JP then visited petitioner in Italy in March and April of 2012 for Easter break. They booked another trip for JP to go to Italy between July 14, 2012 and August 4, 2012. In April 13, 2012, petitioner informed respondent over the telephone that he wished to end their marriage. Respondent emailed petitioner and told him that she would do anything to make the marriage work, including moving back to Italy, transferring to another city that had more frequent flights to Milan on which she could work or moving somewhere else after petitioner finished his residency. Four days later, she flew to Italy. During her visit, she asked petitioner where she and JP would live. Petitioner told her that "the United States is a big place" and that Arizona would be a good place for her and JP because respondent's friend Michelle could help respondent raise JP. That summer, respondent became convinced that she and JP should no longer live with her parents and should look for a place of their own. On June 6, 2012, respondent emailed petitioner, explaining her concern and her desire to talk to him about moving and whether he would be able to help her financially. Petitioner agreed to help respondent and JP rent their own place. Petitioner and respondent communicated a few more times about the price of a rental, but eventually respondent dropped the issue. Petitioner assumed it was because she had worked things out with her parents. Before petitioner began this action, he did not tell respondent that he wanted JP to return to Italy for school in the fall. JP had a successful spring semester of school in Beloit. Although JP was engaged in life in the United States, respondent emailed petitioner on June 17, 2012 that JP missed "home, the dogs, you, etc." On June 26, 2012, respondent filed for divorce in Cook County, Illinois. The next day, petitioner came to the United States to attend his sister's wedding in Washington D.C. Respondent dropped JP off at the Chicago airport so that she could travel with petitioner to the wedding. She picked up petitioner and JP from the airport when they returned from Washington D.C. The next morning, July 2, 2011, respondent and JP took petitioner to the airport for his return flight to Italy. At some point while petitioner was in Chicago, a private investigator served him with respondent's divorce petition. Despite the pending divorce, the parties continued to communicate about JP.

On July 30-31, 2012, after obtaining legal counsel Petitioner filed a criminal complaint and an action under the Hague Convention in Italy, followed by this action, which he filed on September 5, 2012.

The district court observed that in Mozes v. Mozes, 239 F.3d 1067 (9th Cir.2001), the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit undertook a lengthy analysis of the term "habitual residence" that other courts have relied on since then. In this case, the analysis was straightforward. Both parties agreed that their financial difficulties required leaving Milan and taking up residence in the United States, where they could reduce their living expenses and where petitioner would be likely to find a higher paying position than he could obtain in Italy. They agreed that respondent would leave in December 2011 with JP, who would live with respondent's parents while respondent increased her work hours as a flight attendant (and reduced her commuting expenses), and petitioner would come when he finished his residency. With that plan in mind, petitioner applied for a refund of JP's tuition from her expensive international school, saying that the family was moving to the United States; put the couple's home on the market, either for sale or rent; and moved back into a small below ground apartment in Milan. Respondent cleaned out the family home, moved all the family pets to the United States and enrolled JP in a local school in Beloit, Wisconsin, where JP's grandparents lived. This was ample evidence of the parties' settled purpose in December 2011 to establish a new residence in the United States. JP's eight months of residency in this country, her success in the local schools and her involvement in horseback riding supported a finding that her habitual residence was now in the United States. This finding was bolstered by the fact that home environment to which she was accustomed in Italy no longer exists; her home was rented out and she was no longer enrolled in the school she had been accustomed to attending.

Petitioner argued that he never acquiesced in JP's continued residence in the United States. The proof was to the contrary. As explained at length, he made no arrangements for her to come back to Italy to attend school. The record contained nothing in writing to suggest that he ever told respondent that he wanted JP to return to Italy to live with him. The finding that JP's habitual residence was not the United States answered the question whether she was wrongfully removed or retained. She was not. She came here and continued to reside here in accordance with a plan developed by both of her parents at a time when they had a shared intent. Her father's subsequent decision to end his marriage to her mother did not mean that he did not have the settled intent in December 2011 to move his family to the United States for an indefinite period.

As to whether the removal breached petitioner's rights of custody under the law
of the child's habitual residence, that question was moot in view of the finding that the removal was in accordance with the parties' agreement to move to the United States, as was the question whether respondent was exercising his custody rights at the time.

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