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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Felder v. Ponder, 2012 WL 3128570 (D.Mass.) [Switzerland] [Rights of Custody]

In Felder v. Ponder, 2012 WL 3128570 (D.Mass.) Petitioner Claudia Felder sought an order for the return of her fourteen year-old daughter ( "K.W."), to Switzerland. Felder claimed the wrongful retention of K.W. under the Hague Convention by Respondent Alexandra Ponder, K.W.'s godmother, Patrick Wetzel, K.W.'s father, and Children's Hospital Corporation where she had been treated. The District Court granted Wetzel’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

K.W. was a citizen of Switzerland. When K.W.'s parents divorced in August 2007, the Uster District Court in Switzerland granted Felder custody of K.W. and her two sisters. Ponder was K.W.'s godmother; she and Felder had known each other for over twenty years. In September 2011, Felder sent K.W. to the United States to study at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Felder agreed to have Ponder, a resident of Haverhill, Massachusetts, care for K.W. while she attended
school in the United States. Although she resided here during the school year, K.W. flew back to Switzerland for approximately one week in December and returned to school on January 3, 2012. At some point, Ponder began complaining about K.W.'s behavior and expressed doubts about her ability to continue caring for K.W. On May 19, 2012, K.W. attempted suicide. This attempt came on the heels of Felder's suggestion that K.W. should return to Switzerland. K.W. was taken to the emergency room at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Massachusetts. She was subsequently admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit at Children's Hospital. Ponder notified Felder of K.W.'s emergency hospitalization and Felder agreed that K.W. should receive immediate medical care to ensure her safety and well-being. Throughout the first three weeks of K.W.'s hospitalization, Felder monitored K.W.'s progress through Ponder and the medical team at the Hospital. After K.W. had been hospitalized for about three weeks, medical staff proposed that K.W. be discharged from the Hospital to McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility, in Belmont. After consulting with medical professionals in Switzerland, Felder proposed that K.W. be transferred back to Switzerland for further treatment. Felder and K.W.'s physician in Switzerland advised the Hospital staff that they would take responsibility for K.W.'s health and safety and would personally accompany K.W. back to Switzerland. On June 7, 2012, Felder was contacted by a social worker of the Hospital and informed that K.W. could not return to Switzerland. By mid-June, Ponder and Felder's relationship had broken down and Ponder no longer responded to Felder's inquiries about K.W.

.On June 17, 2012, Felder refused to give her consent to Ponder's request for guardianship over K.W., including an order that K.W. remain in the United States, and told Ponder that any prior consent to temporary guardianship had been terminated. On June 20, 2012, Felder traveled to Boston and informed Ponder that she was revoking her temporary role as K.W.'s guardian. On the heels of K.W.'s suicide attempt, K.W.'s father, Wetzel, contacted the City of Lucerne Switzerland, Office of Guardianship Authority concerning his daughter's situation. The Guardianship Authority issued an order by letter dated June 21, 2012 to Felder, stating that the "endangerment of [K.W.] can only be avoided by withdrawing your right to determine the place of residence of [K.W.], or concretely the parental custody right.". The Guardianship Authority issued its precautionary decision withdrawing Felder's parental custody rights, ordering that K.W. continue to be hospitalized for further treatment at Children's Hospital and prohibiting Ponder from removing K.W. from the clinic at that time. Ponder then sought and obtained temporary guardianship over K.W. in Essex County Massachusetts Probate and Family Court on June 25, 2012. On June 27, 2012, Felder requested reconsideration of the Guardianship Authority's June 21, 2012 decision withdrawing her custody rights and requested "its complete repeal."

On July 10, 2012, Felder filed a Hague Convention petition for K.W.'s return to Switzerland, claiming the wrongful retention of K.W. under the Hague Convention by Ponder, Wetzel and Children's Hospital The following day, the Swiss Guardianship Authority issued a letter stating that it "always has jurisdiction over child protection matters" but that "since [K.W.] has resided in America for almost one year, this is a matter of international concern ... the authorities at the place of residence of the child have subject-matter jurisdiction...." The letter further stated that "[b]y the decision of June 25, 2012, the Essex Probate and Family Court ... appointed Alexandra Ponder as the preliminary custodian of [K.W.]. The American authorities thus acknowledged their jurisdiction due to residency and ordered the child protection measures they deemed necessary" and that because of that decision "the basis for the continuation of the child protection proceedings by the Lucerne guardianship office ... ceases to exist" and "the precautionary decision [of June 21, 2012] is to be repealed."

The same day the Swiss Guardianship Authority issued this decision, Felder filed an emergency motion to vacate Ponder's guardianship of K.W. in Probate and Family Court, which was denied. In rendering its decision, the Probate and Family Court reasoned that "the best evidence" before it demonstrated that Felder's "custody rights have been withdrawn" and that the last letter by the Guardianship Authority, does not make clear that those rights "had been reinstated."

On July 12, 2012, the District Court of Lucerne in Switzerland dismissed Felder's complaint against the Guardianship Authority regarding its June 21, 2012 ruling. The Court found that "[w]ith the repeal of the precautionary ruling handed down June 21, 2012, the revocation of the complainant's parental custody ordered by the custodianship authorities of Lucerne becomes obsolete. The complainant no longer has any legally protected interests in continuing the proceedings before the Lucerne District Court. This shall not affect any child protection actions offered by the U.S. authorities."

On July 16, 2012, Ponder filed her verified answer in the Federal District Court, and Wetzel moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court held a hearing on the matter on July 20, 2012.

Felder argued that K.W.'s habitual residence was Switzerland. The Court observed that the  determination of a child's habitual residence "begins with the parents' shared intent or settled purpose regarding their child's residence." Nicolson, 605 F.3d at 104 & n. 2. It was undisputed that K.W. was born and raised in Switzerland and that both of her parents still resided there. K.W. also resided in Switzerland until she came to the United States with her mother's permission to attend school. Felder had custody of K.W. since August 2007 and allowed her to come to the United States to attend Central Catholic in Lawrence, Massachusetts, arranging that Ponder would care for K.W. while she studied here. Shortly after purchasing K.W.'s tickets for travel to the United States in August 2011, Felder booked her return flight to Switzerland for July 12, 2012. She also flew back home to Switzerland in late December between the fall and spring semesters. Based on this record, even focusing, as the Court must, on where the child was habitually resident immediately before the alleged wrongful retention in June 2012, Felder's intent and settled purpose was that K.W.'s habitual residence would remain in Switzerland even as she allowed K.W. to attend school in the United States. Although Ponder and Wetzel claimed that K.W.'s habitual residence was now the United States, the record did not support this contention. Even if the Court credited the Defendants' contention that Felder had acquired a four-year student visa for K.W. to attend school in the United States, such fact did not negate Felder's intent or settled purpose that K.W. would temporarily attend school here but retain a habitual residence in Switzerland. See Poliero v. Centenaro, 373 Fed. Appx. 102, 105-106 (2d Cir.2010) (finding that children's expressed preference for staying in the United States and their schooling for one year in New York did not alter intention that children's habitual residence remain Italy). This was not a case in which "the evidence points unequivocally to the conclusion that the child had become acclimatized to [her] new surroundings and that [her] habitual residence has consequently shifted," Poliero, 373 Fed. Appx. at 105, to the United States. "This is a difficult test to satisfy, and a child's habitual residence will only be found to have shifted due to acclimatization, if the child's relative attachments to the [the two possible habitual residences] have changed to the point where requiring return to the original forum would not be tantamount to taking the child out of the family and social environment in which its life has developed." The evidence here did not not unequivocally demonstrate that K.W.'s acclimatization to the United States had become so complete that returning her to Switzerland would be equivalent to taking her out of a family and social environment in which her life has developed. K.W. returned to Switzerland between the fall and spring semesters to spend time with her Mother and sisters, and there was no suggestion that since returning to the United States for her spring semester, she had not maintained regular contact with her family and friends in Switzerland, despite the allegedly volatile relationship between K.W. and her mother. Thus, it could not be said that K.W.'s habitual residence shifted to the United States.

The Court pointed out that although Felder was granted sole custody of K.W., as part of her divorce decree by the Uster District Court in Switzerland in August 2007, the Swiss Civil Code grants the Guardianship Authority the authority to determine parental custody rights in all matters apart from divorce decrees or modification of same. Under the Swiss Civil Code, the Swiss courts have jurisdiction to amend court orders regarding custody awards and child protection during divorce proceedings, proceeding to alter a divorce decree or in proceedings to modify measures for the protection of the marital union, but "[i]n all other cases jurisdiction lies with the guardianship authorities."Swiss Civil Code, art. 315b. Accordingly, the Guardianship Authority had the power to withdraw parental custody from a parent. Art. 307, 310-312. As of June 21st, the Guardianship Authority took the action that it was empowered to take and revoked Felder's parental custody. However, the Guardianship Authority did take further action after June 21, 2012, but its subsequent rulings did not unequivocally reinstate her custody rights. The Court agreed that the June 21, 2012 decision withdrawing Felder's custody rights over K.W. was a provisional, emergency ruling given the urgent situation involving K.W.'s hospitalization in the United States. The Guardianship Authority's July 11, 2012 letter explained that its previous decision to withdraw Felder's custody rights was based on the information it had at the time that Felder wanted to remove K.W. from the hospital against doctors' recommendations and that at the time of its decision, no Massachusetts court had exercised jurisdiction over the matter to ensure K.W.'s health and safety given the exigency of the situation. The letter explained that because the Probate and Family Court ordered child protection measures for K.W. in appointing Ponder as her temporary guardian on June 25, 2012, after the Guardianship Authority's June 21, 2012 decision, a Massachusetts court had now exercised jurisdiction over the matter, and, as a result, there was no longer a need for the child protection measures the Guardianship Authority had implemented in its June 21, 2012 decision and it repealed that decision. That the Guardianship Authority withdrew its June 21, 2012 order in light of the proceeding in Probate and Family Court, in which Ponder was appointed as a temporary guardian, did not mean that Felder retains her custodial rights. There was no affirmation by the Guardianship Authority of Felder's custody rights even in light of its knowledge of the Probate and Family Court proceedings in which Ponder was appointed as K. W.'s temporary guardian. In the absence of confirmation by the Guardianship Authority that Felder retained her custodial rights, the Court found that Felder failed to show, by a preponderance of evidence, the wrongful retention of K.W. in the United States.

Felder's counsel urged the Court to obtain from Swiss authorities pursuant to Article 15 of the Hague Convention"a decision or other determination that the removal or retention was wrongful within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention, ...." The Court stated that making such a request is at the discretion of the Court and, given both the emergency nature of the Petition and the rulings of the Guardianship Authority in Switzerland, the last of which deferred to Probate and Family Court's ongoing proceedings regarding K.W., the Court declined to make such request.

Larbie v Larbie, --- F.3d ----, 2012 WL 3089773 (C.A.5 (Tex.) [United Kingdom] [Moot Appeal ][Consent and Acquiescence] [Habitual Residence]

In Larbie v Larbie, --- F.3d ----, 2012 WL 3089773 (C.A.5 (Tex.) Plaintiff-Appellee Evelyn Larbie filed a petition under the Hague Convention seeking the return of her son, K.L., to the United Kingdom. The district court granted Evelyn's petition and ordered Defendant Derek Larbie to turn K.L. over to Evelyn's care. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that district court's application of the Convention effectively reversed a custody order entered after lengthy proceedings, culminating in a final divorce and custody order, in which neither party objected to the state court's jurisdiction, creating precisely the type of international custody dispute that  the Convention seeks to avoid. Accordingly, it vacated the district court's order and rendered judgment in Derek's favor.

 Derek and Evelyn were Ghanian nationals. Derek obtained naturalized citizenship in the United States and served as an officer in the United States Air Force. Evelyn possessed permanent residency in the U.K. They married in December 2005. They lived in San Antonio, Texas. K.L. was born in August 2006. Derek had a son from a previous relationship. Derek sponsored Evelyn for a "green card," which expired on June 27, 2009. Although Evelyn held a temporary work permit, she stayed home to care for K.L. In March 2008, Derek filed for divorce in Texas state court. Shortly thereafter, Derek received orders to report in June for two months of training in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan. Evelyn responded to Derek's divorce petition by answer and counter petition. In her counter petition she asserted that she had been domiciled in Texas for at least six months and that she had resided in San Antonio for at least ninety days before the suit commenced. She also specified that no other court had jurisdiction over K.L. Given Derek's impending overseas assignment, the Larbies entered into an agreed temporary divorce decree on June 11, 2008 which appointed Derek and Evelyn "Temporary Joint Managing Conservators" of K.L. and entered a "Standard Possession Order" outlining how the parties would spend time with him. The Temporary Order also gave Evelyn the authority to determine K.L.'s residence "without regard to geographic location." However, it also provided that "[i]n the event that [K.L.] [was] to travel internationally," Evelyn had to inform Derek of the dates and location of such travel, the identity of those persons with whom K.L. was staying, and the telephone numbers at which K.L. could be reached "while [he was] traveling." The Temporary Order ordered Evelyn to allow K.L. "weekly" visits with Derek's other son, and provided that various provisions were operative only so long as the "case [was] pending." On the same day the parties agreed to the Temporary Order, the Court granted Derek’s motion to stay the proceedings pursuant to the Service members Civil Relief Act,"until Sept. 1, 2009 or until such time as [he] return [ed] to Lackland Air Force Base at the conclusion of [his] deployment. It granted Derek's motion to stay and entered the Temporary Order on July 23 and 24, 2008, respectively. The Temporary Order specified that it was to "continue in force until the signing of the Final Decree of Divorce or until further order of th[e] Court."

 A few weeks after Derek left for training, Evelyn bought a plane ticket to travel to London on July 12th. Evelyn took only what was "permissible on the aircraft," leaving behind "substantially all" of her and K.L.'s "clothing and personal effects" and giving no indication that the trip was anything other than temporary. She and Derek exchanged e-mails that indicated her intent to return to San Antonio. Derek deployed to Afghanistan. Although Evelyn apparently contemplated obtaining a residence order there , she never sought custody of K.L. in the U.K. courts. A residence order is the U.K. equivalent of a custody order and different from he contact order. See Children Act 1989, c. 41, Part II, s 8(1) ("In this Act-'a contact order' means an order requiring the person with whom a child lives, or is to live, to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, or for that person and the child otherwise to have contact with each other...."). K.L. had entered the U.K. on a limited-duration visitor's visa that expired in early 2009. Without notifying Derek, Evelyn filed an application to obtain permanent resident status for K.L. in autumn 2008. The U.K. denied that application on June 23, 2009, in part because Evelyn failed to show that she was " 'present and settled in the [U.K.] and ... had sole responsibility for [K.L.'s] upbringing.' " The U.K. official also reasoned that the Temporary Order " 'impl[ied] that the final decision regarding [K.L.'s] place of residence and which of [his] parents will have primary responsibility for [his] upbringing will not be decided until [his] parents' final decree is signed.' " The official saw " 'nothing to indicate that [Derek had] agreed to [K.L.'s] residing in the [U.K.] permanently with [his] mother.' "

 Days later, Evelyn asked the Texas court to set the divorce for a final hearing. In her motion, Evelyn stated that she had returned to Texas and discovered that her immigration paperwork was missing from the marital residence. These documents were crucial, Evelyn argued, because without them she could not "retain her current green card status in the United States." On June 30, 2009, Evelyn, her attorney, and Derek's attorney attended a hearing in San Antonio. Contending that K.L. could be ejected from England at any point in time, Evelyn's counsel asked either that the Texas Court order Derek to give consent for K.L. to have residency in London or lift the stay to allow the parties to litigate the divorce issue, because in order for Evelyn to remain in the United States, she's had to either be divorced or have sponsorship. Evelyn's attorney represented at least two more times in the relatively brief hearing that Evelyn hoped to maintain permanent residence in the United States. Derek's attorney noted that he had been served with "full blown discovery" shortly before the hearing and argued that Derek's continued deployment mandated that the stay remain in place. In response to the judge's questioning, the attorney admitted that he could not think of a solution to K.L.'s visa problem. He reiterated, however, that Derek ultimately sought full custody.

 The judge then proposed a potential solution: "what if [the parties] did some kind of an order that said, the Court finds that this temporary order that was agreed to by the parties signifies [Derek's] consent for [K.L.] to temporarily reside with [Evelyn] in London, until such time as the Court hears ... further orders in ... October of 2009 or something[?]" The attorneys agreed "that might do the trick." The judge repeatedly made clear that any consent for K.L. to stay overseas was to temporarily avoid separating him from Evelyn and should not "prejudice [Derek's] right to come back here and conduct a custody trial in the future." The judge also warned the parties that if they could not reach an agreement along the lines she had proposed, she would not rule out lifting the stay and finalizing the divorce. The attorneys agreed to work on an agreed order and to come back before another judge in a few days. The next day, Derek's attorney sent Derek an email about the "emergency" proceedings. Attached to the email was an affidavit for Derek's signature giving consent for K.L. to "reside" with Evelyn. In line with the discussion at the June 30th Hearing, Derek's attorney suggested that any consent would be valid only through Derek's return to the United States, noting that they would "have to have a side agreement between [Evelyn], her lawyer, and [Derek's attorney] that [K.L.'s] residence in England is not permanent and that he shall be returning to the U.S. eventually and that this case shall proceed here and only here in Texas." Derek signed the affidavit on July 6, 2009 . In it, Derek affirmed that he was K.L.'s biological father, reported that he was "currently deployed in Afghanistan," and gave his consent for K.L. to "reside with his mother ... in England," which he considered to be in K.L.'s "best interest." The same day, Derek emailed the affidavit to his attorney, writing only that he had "read, signed[,] and attached the consent form as discussed." On July 2nd-just two days after the June 30th Hearing-Evelyn filed an amended counter petition in the Texas court. Consistent with her stated desire to maintain permanent residency in the United States, the counter petition again stated that Evelyn had been domiciled in Texas for the preceding six months and had been a resident of Bexar County, in which San Antonio is located, for the preceding ninety days. Evelyn also sought "the exclusive use and possession" of the marital residence and an injunction against Derek's "entering or remaining on  the premises." The counter petition further asked the Texas court to appoint Evelyn as sole managing conservator of K.L. and to enter certain "temporary" child support and spousal maintenance provisions "until a final decree [was] signed." The counter petition also disavowed that K.L. was "under the continuing jurisdiction of any other court" or subject to any "court-ordered conservatorships, court-ordered guardianships, or other court-ordered relationships."

 The second hearing on Evelyn's motion to lift the imposed stay was held on July 6, 2009-the same day that Derek signed and emailed the Consent Affidavit. Evelyn's representations differed from those made at the June 30th Hearing in at least two crucial aspects. This time, Evelyn's counsel reported that U.K. immigration officials had scheduled K.L.'s deportation for July 9th, just three days away, and that Evelyn "could never come back over here and live with her child" because her green card had expired. Both of these claims were questionable. Evelyn's counsel nonetheless contended that the only way to prevent K.L.'s deportation was to grant a divorce or to have Derek sign the consent form. Derek's attorney had not yet heard back from Derek about the Consent Affidavit and announced "not ready." He argued that any action without Derek's participation violated the Service members Civil Relief Act, but attempted to work out some sort of agreement. Based on the alleged emergency, the judge crafted a compromise. She "order {ed] that [Derek] sign the consent form to do a status quo. In the event he fail[ed] to do that, [the judge would] enter a divorce decree." Although the decree would "grant the divorce and grant custody," it would only be a temporary arrangement to prevent K.L.'s deportation. After entry of the decree, the judge proposed that a motion for new trial be filed by Evelyn's attorney to "prevent it becoming a final order until [Derek was] able to get back from Afghanistan." The judge noted that she did not expect Derek's attorney to agree to this solution. In fact, when Derek's attorney asked for sanctions and attorneys' fees under the Service members Civil Relief Act, the judge promised to take up those issues when  "we really do have a final hearing." The judge was explicit that this arrangement would "not prejudice [Derek] for his custody suit" and that he was "not in any way precluded from coming back and obtaining [custody]-and [that] if he want[ed] to come back sooner, [she would] grant him a new trial." Although Derek emailed the Consent Affidavit to his attorney on July 6th, there apparently was some objection to Derek's failure to have it notarized. The Texas court therefore entered a "final" divorce decree on July 30, 2009, awarding Evelyn sole managing conservatorship over K.L. but notably omitting the Temporary Order's "without regard to geographic location" modifier. Evelyn forwarded the "final" divorce decree to U.K. immigration authorities.

 Derek returned from Afghanistan just over two weeks later. He quickly filed motions for a new trial and to lift the stay. The Texas court entered an agreed order granting the motion for new trial on August 26, 2009.

 A U.K. immigration appeals judge granted K.L. permanent residency in the U.K. a week later, but not because Evelyn had been granted sole managing conservatorship. The judge found that it was "quite clear from the [Texas court] documents that both parents retain[ed] a significant responsibility for the care of [K.L.]" and that Evelyn's "evidence [was] far from showing that [she] ha[d] sole responsibility for [him]." The U.K. judge noted that it was "not in dispute that suitable arrangements [had] been made for [K.L.'s] care both as a result of the American divorce proceedings and as a result of [Evelyn's] financial condition." The judge thus affirmed the rejection of K.L.'s application under the U.K. law provision relied upon in the original decision. The judge instead granted the appeal based on a provision allowing permanent residency in cases where "one parent is present and settled in the [U.K.] and there are serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable."

 Derek filed a "Motion for Additional Temporary Orders" on September 16, 2009, seeking extended visitation with K.L. in the U.K. The Texas court granted the motion on September 30th, and ordered Evelyn to allow Derek three weeks of "continuous and unrestricted (twenty four (24) hours per day) visitation with K.L." from October 20th to November 10th. Evelyn lodged no objections to this order even though she originally opposed Derek's visitation request.

 With Derek's return, the divorce proceedings turned to discovery. The record suggests that Evelyn refused to comply with several discovery requests and court orders. Derek filed motions to compel, for sanctions, and for a continuance. After a December hearing, the Texas court granted Derek's requests, ordering Evelyn to respond to the discovery requests and to pay Derek $1538 in sanctions. Trial was continued to March 1, 2010. Evelyn failed to comply with the order, and Derek filed another motion to compel and other motions. The Texas court granted these requests by, among other things, giving Derek the exclusive right to occupy the marital residence, ordering Evelyn to comply with certain discovery requests, and setting other matters for a hearing. Evelyn was ordered to bring K.L. to the hearing. On February 4th, the Texas court issued a multi-part order addressing several pending matters. Among other things, the order provided that Derek discontinue child and spousal support payments as a sanction for Evelyn's failure to bring K.L. to the hearing; that Evelyn comply with the outstanding discovery requests and finish paying the previously ordered sanction; that Evelyn was prohibited from raising certain issues in future proceedings; and that Evelyn pay an additional $1200 in sanctions for her failure to abide by various orders. The order also imposed heavy sanctions for her conduct, but allowed her to fully participate in the final divorce hearing if she complied with all unresolved orders and discovery requests by March 1, 2010. Evelyn complied with the sanction order, as well as an order to bring K.L. back to the United States for the trial. The Texas court heard arguments on March 1 and 2, 2010. Derek and Evelyn both testified, along with an immigration specialist and an accountant.

 The Texas court entered a "Final Decree of Divorce" on May 25, 2010, finding that it had "jurisdiction of [the] case and of all the parties." It appointed Derek and Evelyn as joint managing conservators of K.L., with Derek as the possessory parent, and found that such an arrangement was in K.L.'s "best interests." Because the parties "reside[d] in different and remote countries," the Final Decree imposed a custom possession order rather than the Texas Standard Possession Order used in the Temporary Order. In lieu of child support, Evelyn was ordered to pay "all costs of travel associated with her visitation" rights. Unlike the Temporary Order, the Final Decree contained a mutual ne exeat provision that required each party to obtain "written authorization" from the other to take K.L. "beyond the territorial limits of the United States," provided that during her periods of possession, Evelyn had the right to take K.L. to England, Scotland, and Wales. Before removing K.L. from the United States, however, the Final Decree obligated Evelyn to post a $25,000 bond in Derek's favor. The Texas court gave Derek "the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of [K.L.] without regard to geographic location," and found "that the United States of America is the country of habitual residence of [K.L.]"

 Derek took possession of K.L. shortly after the trial ended. Evelyn appealed and in January 2011 filed a "Motion to Modify and Motion for Clarification" of the Final Decree which was disposed of.

 On February 25, 2011, Evelyn initiated this action. A an evidentiary hearing, at which both parties testified and presented evidence the district court granted Evelyn's petition on August 10, 2011, and ordered that Derek immediately return K.L. to Evelyn's possession. The district court found that the U.K. was K.L.'s "habitual residence" under the Convention; that Derek breached Evelyn's U.K. custody rights by retaining K.L. pursuant to the Final Decree; and that Evelyn was actually exercising her U.K. custody rights at the time of retention. Evelyn departed for the U.K. with K.L. in tow. Derek timely appealed.

 The Fifth Circuit rejected Evelyn’s argument that the court should adopt the reasoning of the Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Bekier v. Bekier, 248 F.3d 1051 (11th Cir.2001), and hold that the case was moot in light of K.L.'s return to the U.K. The petitioner in Bekier took his son from the United States to Israel immediately after the district court resolved the Convention issue in his favor. The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the respondent's appeal, reasoning that it could provide her "no actual affirmative relief" because any "potential remedies ... lie in the Israeli courts." The Fifth Circuit found that Bekier was inconsistent with the grain of circuit authority. The Third and Fourth Circuits, the only other circuit courts to rule on the issue, had explicitly rejected Bekier 's approach. See Whiting v. Krassner, 391 F.3d 540, 544-46 & n.2 (3d Cir.2004); Fawcett v. McRoberts, 326 F.3d 491, 494-97 (4th Cir.2003). The Court held that Derek's appeal was not moot for basically the reasons articulated by the Fawcett court. '[C]ompliance [with a trial court's order] does not [ordinarily] moot an appeal [of that order] if it remains possible to undo the effects of compliance or if the order will have a continuing impact on future action.' " The Convention and U.K. law perhaps best demonstrate that granting Derek relief can " 'affect the matter in issue.' Both provide a "mechanism for enforcing a judgment by this court or the district court on remand." It also was possible that Evelyn could voluntarily respond to an order requiring K.L.'s return or risk contempt sanctions.

 Turning to the merits of Evelyn's case the court concluded that Derek should prevail. The district court's order had the effect of undoing the custody arrangement ordered by the Texas court of competent jurisdiction, before which both parties participated and sought relief, in favor of relitigating custody before tribunals that, until this proceeding, Evelyn never argued had authority over the matter. Derek contended that Evelyn consented to the Texas court's resolution of the custody issue and "waived" recourse to the Convention by failing to raise it in the Texas court. The district court, however, held that Evelyn's "[m]erely participating in the Texas divorce and custody proceedings [was] not consent to [K.L.'s] removal or retention in Texas." According to the district court, Evelyn attended the final divorce proceedings "under compulsion of the Texas court's order," belying the voluntariness of her participation. Similarly, the district court believed that "[t]here was nothing consensual or voluntary in her surrender of her son."

 The Court observed that under Article 13(a), "[t]he consent defense involves the petitioner's conduct prior to the contested removal or retention, while acquiescence addresses whether the petitioner subsequently agreed to or accepted the removal or retention." Baxter v. Baxter, 423 F.3d 363, 371 (3d Cir.2005). The focus of inquiry is "the petitioner's subjective intent," , as "evinced by the petitioner's statements or conduct, which can be rather informal." Nicolson v. Pappalardo, 605 F.3d 100, 105 (1st Cir.2010). "In examining a consent defense, it is important to consider what the petitioner actually contemplated and agreed to in allowing the child to travel outside its home country. The nature and scope of the petitioner's consent, and any conditions or limitations, should be taken into account." Consent for a particular tribunal to make a final custody determination, which may be established by entry of a temporary custody order, suffices to establish an affirmative defense under the Convention. See Nicolson, 605 F.3d at 106-07 ("The consent order in this case provided only for temporary custody but, if it were read as agreeing to let the Maine courts determine final custody..., we would think that this was an acquiescence or, alternatively, a waiver of Hague Convention rights."; cf. Navani, 496 F.3d at 1132 ("As the English family court retained jurisdiction at all times over [the child's] custody, and we have never had jurisdiction over the merits of the English family court's custodial decisions, we are powerless to alter the current custodial regime forbidding the very relief that [the appellant-respondent] seeks: return of the child to the United States.").

 Applying these principles left no doubt that Evelyn gave " 'clear and unequivocal' " consent for the Texas court to make a final custody determination. Evelyn and Derek agreed to the Temporary Order because Derek's military service made a final resolution and trial impractical at the time. Evelyn answered the divorce lawsuit and filed a counter petition seeking affirmative relief. Evelyn exercised custody, as a temporary joint managing conservator, under the Temporary Order until July 30, 2009, when the "final" divorce decree was entered at the suggestion of a Texas judge and as a compromise to forestall what was claimed to be K.L.'s imminent deportation. That decree was vacated weeks later by agreement of the parties. During Evelyn's time in the U.K., she recognized and obeyed orders entered by the Texas court on multiple occasions. Although Evelyn was sanctioned for discovery abuses and for failing to bring K.L. to the United States on one occasion, she ultimately paid the imposed sanctions and complied with all Texas court orders. She participated in the divorce trial, appealed the Final Decree, and later moved that the Texas court modify its terms based on her consistent obedience to the court's orders and submission to its jurisdiction. By her own admission, at no time did Evelyn initiate custody proceedings in the U.K.

 The only thing in the record suggesting that Evelyn disagreed with the Texas court's authority was the filing of this action nine months after Final Decree was entered and almost a year after the divorce trial ended. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit held that Derek proved as a matter of law that Evelyn agreed to the Texas court's final resolution of the custody issue.

 The Courts conclusion that consent was given defeated Evelyn's claim of "wrongful retention." Even if this analysis was incorrect, however, the Court concluded that Evelyn failed to satisfy her burden on the elements necessary to establish wrongful retention. Because wrongful-retention analysis depends on first determining
 K.L.'s country of "habitual residence," it began there. The Fifth Circuit joined the majority of circuits that "have adopted an approach that begins with the parents' shared intent or settled purpose regarding their child's residence." Nicolson, 605 F.3d at 104 & n.2 (collecting cases). This approach does not ignore the child's experience, but rather gives greater weight to the parents' subjective intentions relative to the child's age. For example, parents ' intentions should be dispositive where, as here, the child is so young that "he or she cannot possibly decide the issue of residency." Whiting, 391 F.3d at 548-49. In such cases, the threshold test is whether both parents intended for the child to "abandon the [habitual residence] left behind." Mozes, 239 F.3d at 1075; see also Whiting, 391 F.3d at 549-50. Absent shared intent, "prior habitual residence should be deemed supplanted only where 'the objective facts point unequivocally' to this conclusion." Mozes, 239 F.3d at 1082. Notably, when "the child's initial move from an established habitual residence was clearly intended to be for a specific, limited duration [,] ... most courts will find no change in habitual residence." Mere retention in another country and "private reservations" or intentions that are made "manifest and definitive" only after the child has left its country of origin are generally insufficient to establish intent to change a child's habitual residence.

 The district court concluded that the U.K. was K.L.'s habitual residence in March 2010 based on K.L.'s acclimation to the U.K. and Derek's intent that K.L. reside there with Evelyn during Derek's deployment. The district court relied primarily on Derek's agreeing to the Temporary Order provision giving Evelyn the right to determine K.L.'s residence without geographic restrictions and on his executing the Consent Affidavit allowing K.L. to reside in the U.K. The district court found that Evelyn and Derek's "last shared agreement ... was that [K.L.] reside in the U.K. with his mother." The Fifth Circuit disagreed.

 As an initial matter, the district court's order did not consider several components of the habitual-residence inquiry. The order never analyzed the threshold question of whether Derek and Evelyn shared an intention that K.L. abandon the United States, which was indisputably his habitual residence before his arrival in the U.K.. Nor did the order address the fact that Evelyn never claimed before filing her petition that she intended for K.L. to permanently remain in the U.K. Derek, for his part, never intended for K.L. to "abandon" the United States for any amount of time and, at most, agreed for K.L. to stay in the U.K. through resolution of the divorce proceedings. Thus, although Derek agreed that K.L. could remain in the U.K. for some time, no objective facts "unequivocally" show that the U.K. should "supplant[ ]" the United States as K.L.'s habitual residence. Regardless of the ties that K.L. unavoidably developed in the U.K., his young age required Derek and Evelyn's
 shared intentions be the primary focus in the habitual residence inquiry here. The Court opted against following the Sixth Circuit's exclusively child-centered approach. To focus on a young child's experience encourages future "would-be abductor[s] to seek unilateral custody over a child in another country" or to delay returning to the child's original habitual residence as long as possible.

 The record established that K.L.'s presence in the U.K. was to last for a limited duration; that Derek never agreed to any other arrangement; and that no special circumstances justified departing from courts' general practice of finding no change in habitual residence in such cases. See Whiting, 391 F.3d at 549-50. It concluded that Evelyn's sojourn did not alter K.L.'s habitual residence. As a result, it did not need to analyze any other element of the "wrongful-retention" analysis.

 It held that the appeal was not moot; that Derek satisfied his affirmative defense burden under the Convention to show that Evelyn consented and acquiesced to the Texas court's authority to make a final custody adjudication; and found that K.L.'s habitual residence at the time of the alleged retention remained the United States. 

White v White, 2012 WL 3041660 (S.D.N.Y.) [Germany] [Federal & State Judicial Remedies] [Rooker-Feldman Doctrine] [Res Judicata] [Collateral Estoppel][Failure to State a Claim]

In White v White, 2012 WL 3041660 (S.D.N.Y.) pro se Plaintiff Keith White brought an action against his ex-wife Gabriela White under the Hague Convention, seeking the return of the parties' son S. to Keith and repayment of monies that Keith paid to Gabriela since 2005.

 According to the complaint, on January 27, 2005, Gabriela "abducted" S., who was then three years old, from S.'s residence in New York City and transported S. to Germany without Keith's consent. While in Germany, Gabriela "said to the Competent Agency for Youth Services that she 'was not willing to return w[i]th the child to the United States.' " In an effort to bring about the return of his son to the United States, Keith filed Hague Convention proceedings in Germany through the United States Department of State. The German Local Court Koblenz assumed jurisdiction over Keith's case and set a trial date for May 24, 2005. Two days before trial was scheduled to begin, Gabriela "vanished [with S.] and eventually resurfaced in New Jersey," where she and S. resided since. In April 2006, in light of Gabriela's voluntary return with S. to the United States, the German Court issued an order terminating the Hague Convention proceedings because "[b]oth parties in agreement declared the lawsuit finished" and assessing Keith's costs of adjudicating the proceedings on Gabriela. In explaining its imposition of costs, the German Court noted that, prior to the date set for trial, several efforts had been made to "force [Gabriela] to return to the United States with the child and to there clarify the issue of the child's custody " but that, only under the pressure of trial, did Gabriela "change[ ] her mind to fly back to New York and ... stand trial at divorce and child custody proceedings." The German Court concluded that, had Gabriela not "returned voluntarily with the child to the United States, an order would have been enacted to effect the surrender of the child... for the immediate return purpose of the child to New York, NY, United States." Therefore, because it was "indisputable that a sentence of repatriation would have been [issued]," the German Court determined that Keith's costs of litigating the Hague Convention proceedings should be imposed on Gabriela.

 Upon Gabriela's return to the United States in 2005, the parties each filed divorce actions in Supreme Court, New York County, asserting divorce, custody, and support claims. These suits were consolidated into a single action. On April 17, 2008, after trial, Supreme Court (Lobis,J.) issued an order granting joint custody of S. to both parents, primary residential custody to Gabriela, weekly and holiday visitation to Keith, and shared decision-making authority over S. In awarding Gabriela primary residential custody, Justice Lobis acknowledged that "[t]here is no dispute over the fact that [Gabriela] removed S. from New York [to] ... Germany for approximately four months without [Keith]'s permission" . On March 11, 2010, the Appellate Division affirmed the Custody Order. In so holding, the Appellate Division stated: We note, contrary to plaintiff's assertions, that the German court to which he applied for return of the child did not declare defendant a kidnapper or "child abductor." Rather, the record shows that the Hague Convention proceedings initiated by plaintiff were dismissed, upon agreement of the parties, without any such finding having been made.

 The support claims and other financial matters were tried before a referee in December 2008. On June 30, 2010, New York Supreme Court Justice Saralee Evans, to whom the case had been reassigned, issued a Decision/Order adopting in part and modifying in part the referee's recommendation as it related to child support, maintenance, distribution of marital property, and counsel fees. Justice Evans characterized as undisputed "the fact that [Gabriela] removed S. from New York, traveled to see her family, and stayed in Germany for approximately four months without [Keith's] permission." Justice Evans also acknowledged Keith's "conten[tion] that vacatur of the referee's report was warranted because defendant ' kidnapped' the parties' son in 2005, when she took him to Germany against plaintiff's wishes, and remained there for four months, until plaintiff brought an action under the Hague Convention" and Keith's "object[ion] that this constituted egregious fault, barring [Gabriela] from receiving maintenance." Justice Evans found the referee's recommendation to be "substantially supported by the record" and made financial awards. Justice Evans recognized that the German Court had imposed the costs of the Hague Convention proceedings on Gabriela after ruling "that the transport of the parties' son to Germany by defendant was illegal," and found that, "[w]hile these facts do not warrant vacatur of the Referee's report, it appears to the court that the German court's determination of [Gabriela's] liability under the Hague Convention for wrongful retention of the parties' son in Germany should be afforded full faith and credit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. s 11603(g) and ... [Keith] is therefore entitled ... to payment by [Gabriela] of his demonstrated expenses in that action." Consequently, Justice Evans reduced Keith's aggregate financial obligations to Gabriela by his costs of adjudicating the Hague Convention action, which she calculated at "the sum of $6,247.13 plus the value of 3,874.98 euros."

 On December 15, 2010, Justice Evans issued a Judgment of Divorce that incorporated the Custody and Support Orders and reaffirmed that Keith's financial obligations to Gabriela were to "be reduced by [Keith's Hague Convention] legal and court costs, in the sum of $6,247.13 plus the value of 3,874.98. On January 5, 2012, the Appellate Division summarily dismissed Keith's appeal from the Divorce Judgment.

 On January 11, 2012, proceeding pro se, Keith filed a complaint under the Hague Convention and ICARA. The complaint alleged that, by returning to New Jersey voluntarily in May 2005, Gabriela "frustrated the German Court in its efforts to issue 'a sentence of repatriation to the state of habitual residence ... [of] New York' " and that "[d]espite New York State Civil Supreme Court extending full faith and credit to the German Court's decision and order [,] ... [t]o date a return order incorporating the German Court's definition ... of the state of habitual residence has not been issued." The complaint also alleged that Gabriela had "refused to comply with the German Court's decision and order" and "essentially extort[ed] monies from [Keith], forcing [him] to in essence, pay for the ongoing abduction of their son." Keith asked the Court to "honor the definition of the state of habitual residence established for this case by the German Court and issue an order for the immediate return of S. to the plaintiff in New York, NY, United States" and "to require [Gabriela to] repay all monies paid to her by [Keith] since January 27, 2005."

 On January 18, 2012, Judge Daniels of the District Court referred the case to the Magistrate for general pretrial purposes and to issue a report and recommendation regarding any dispositive motions. On February 16, 2012, Gabriela filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the Hague Convention did not apply to domestic custody disputes and that the only possible relief to which Plaintiff could be entitled under the Hague Convention, transfer of the parties' son to the United States for custody proceedings in New York, occurred seven years ago, when Gabriela voluntarily returned to the United States with S. Keith filed an opposition in which he did not assert that Gabriela had wrongfully removed S. from the United States since 2005, but rather that Gabriela's continued residential custody of S. pursuant to the New York State Supreme Court's Custody Order violated the German Court order. ("[T]he Hague case has already been adjudicated by the [German] Court. Plaintiff is not asking for the case to be reopened or litigated again. He is asking that the status quo that existed prior to the wrongful retention of the parties' child, which was the intention of the [German] Court's order, be enforced."). Keith's opposition papers further clarified that he brought his claim, under ICARA's full faith and credit provision, 42 U.S.C. 11603(g), which requires a district court to enforce a Hague Convention order that has issued elsewhere.

 The Magistrate observed that though courts in this Circuit have previously applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine coextensively with claim and issue preclusion, the Supreme Court recently clarified that the doctrine does not "supersed[e] the ordinary application of preclusion law pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1738." Instead, it occupies a "narrow ground" and "is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Green, 585 F.3d at 101 (quoting Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284). The Second Circuit interpreted this language to impose four conditions, each of which must be met for the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to bar a district court from hearing the case: "(1) the party raising the claim must have lost in state court; (2) that party's injuries must be caused by the state court judgment; (3) that party's claims must invite the district court to review and reject the state court judgment; and (4) the state court judgment must have been rendered prior to the commencement of the federal court proceedings."

 Under this framework, the Magistrate determined that Keith was a "state-court loser." In terms of the issues before the Court, whether enforcement of the German Court order required that Gabriela "return" S. to Keith in New York and reimburse Keith for more than $100,000 paid to her since 2005 (presumably pursuant to either the Support Order or an earlier interim order of the Supreme Court), Keith plainly "lost" in state court. On these issues, Keith asserted virtually identical arguments to the Supreme Court that he now made, namely that "extend[ing] full faith and credit to [the German Court] order ... [required Justice Evans to] vacate the [referee's] findings against [Keith]", and that Keith should be given primary custody of S. because "the crime of kidnapping should not be rewarded with custody and should not be rewarded in general." The Supreme Court considered these arguments, including the degree to which the German Court order affected Gabriela's entitlement to child support and maintenance , and held that the German Court order's only legal effect was in its imposition of Keith's Hague Convention costs on Gabriela. In so holding, the Supreme Court necessarily rejected Keith's arguments that the German Court order had any further import for its custody and financial determinations. The Appellate Division also addressed and rejected Keith's argument that enforcement of the German Court order required a different disposition of custody. Since Keith urged a view of the German Court order that was presented to and rejected by the Supreme Court and Appellate Division, he "lost" on those issues in state court. Thus, the first element of the test was met. The second issue was whether Keith's injuries were "caused" by the state court judgment. The complaint described Keith's injuries as Gabriela's "refus[al] to comply with the German Court's decision and order by returning S. to New York, Ny"; Gabriela's "obstruct[ion][of] access" between S. and Keith; and Gabriela's collection from Keith of "in excess of $100,000 ... during the ongoing abduction of S." Though Keith attributed these injuries to Gabriela, the Supreme Court's Custody and Support Orders created Gabriela's legal entitlement to retain primary custody of S. and receive support payments from Keith. Thus, that the state court orders "caused" the custody and support arrangement of which Keith now complained. The third element of Rooker-Feldman was also met because Keith asked the Court to overturn the state court's Custody and Support Orders by mandating the "immediate return of S. to [Keith] in New York, NY" and requiring Gabriela to "repay all monies paid to her by [Keith] since January 27, 2005." Keith's opposition papers further explained that "this Court has authority to supersede any ruling issued by the New York state courts" and ask the Court to "immediately return" S. to Keith "regardless of any standing custody orders...." . Moreover, Keith's opposition papers did not challenge Gabriela's assertion that "she has the permission of the state courts" to live with S. in New Jersey, but merely argued that "State Court decisions did not render moot, replace or supersede a Hague recovery process." Keith's complaint and opposition papers therefore constituted invitations to "review and reject the state court judgment." Williams, 2012 WL 691832, at *4. Finally, because the Divorce Judgment incorporating the Custody and Support Orders was rendered in 2010, and this action was not filed under January 11, 2012, the fourth element of Rooker-Feldman, that the state court judgment was rendered prior to commencement of the federal court proceedings, was also met.

 Though Keith did not specifically request review of the state court judgment, claiming instead that he sought merely to enforce the German Court order under the full faith and credit provision of ICARA, analysis of the four elements made clear that his federal lawsuit would require the Court to review and reject the Supreme Court's Custody and Support Orders after Keith has lost on appeal to the Appellate Division. The Court was therefore divested of subject matter jurisdiction over Keith's claims and could not hear them.

 The Magistrate found that Keith's Claims were also barred by the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, and by the doctrine of collateral estoppel (or issue preclusion) The Magistrate also found that even if Keith's claims were not precluded by the state court action, Keith failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Keith did not state a case of wrongful retention (or removal) under 42 U.S.C. 11603(b) because he acknowledged that S. did not remain in Germany but was returned to the United States in 2005. Instead, Keith's theory of relief was premised on enforcement of the German Court's order under 42 U.S.C. 11603(g). However, that provision required only that "[f]ull faith and credit shall be accorded by the courts of the States and the courts of the United States to the judgment of any other such court ordering or denying the return of a child, pursuant to the Convention...."42 U.S.C. 11603(g) . The German Court did not order or deny S.'s return to the United States. It declared that it "would have" ordered S.'s return to New York, but that it was unnecessary to do so because Gabriela voluntarily returned with S. to the United States. Keith sought only to have this Court "honor the definition of the state of habitual residence established for this case by the German Court." However, ICARA does not provide for the enforcement of a "definition" and, even if it did, at most, that definition would determine where custody proceedings should take place and not what the outcome of those proceedings should be. Keith misconstrued the Convention in seeking to use the German Court's order, not to protect New York's jurisdiction as home-state arbiter of custody (as the Convention seeks to do), but instead to override New York's custody determination. There was simply no authority under the Hague Convention for such an outcome; it was fundamentally inconsistent with the treaty's purpose and plain language and expressly excluded from ICARA's limited grant of jurisdiction. See Hague Convention, art. 19 ("A decision under this Convention concerning the return of the child shall not be taken to be a determination on the merits of any custody issue."); 42 U.S.C. 11601(b)(4). Thus, the Convention not only does not authorize-it prohibits-the Court from using the Convention as a basis to alter New York's custody determination. Nor did 42 U.S.C. 11607-or any other provision of the Convention or ICARA-authorize the Court to order Gabriela to "repay all monies paid to her by [Keith] since January 27, 2005." Section 11607 merely provides that "[a]ny court ordering the return of a child pursuant to an action brought under [ 42 U.S.C. s 11603(b) ] shall order the respondent to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner...."42 U.S .C. 11607(3). Because no return order ever issued, it was not clear that Keith was entitled to recover such expenses at all under section 11607(3). Nevertheless, to the extent the German Court ordered that Keith should recover his costs, and the state court found that its determination should be given full faith and credit, that relief had already been incorporated into the Support Order. Accordingly, the Court found that even if Keith's claims were not foreclosed under the doctrines of Rooker-Feldman, res judicata, and collateral estoppel, Keith failed to state claim on which relief could be granted, and recommended that the motion to dismiss be granted and that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.