Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Sanchez-Londono v. Gonzalez, 752 F.3d 533 (1st Cir., 2014) [Colombia] [Habitual Residence] [Petition Denied]
In Sanchez-Londono v. Gonzalez, 752 F.3d 533 (1st Cir., 2014) the mother claimed that Respondent–Appellee Nelson González (the “father”) wrongfully retained their daughter, E.G., in the United States and sought an order requiring the child's return to Colombia, where E.G. lived with her mother for two-and-a-half years. The district court found that no wrongful retention of E.G. occurred under the Hague Convention because the United States was E.G.'s place of habitual residence. The First Circuit affirmed.
The mother was a citizen of Colombia who, in 2004, entered the United States illegally. The father came to the United States from the Dominican Republic and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 2000. They married on December 20, 2005. In October 2006, the couple's daughter, E.G., was born in Massachusetts. E.G. was a citizen of both the United States and Colombia. After E.G. was born, the family lived together in Framingham, Massachusetts, for more than two years. The mother was stopped for a traffic violation in 2008, prompting concerns that she would be identified as an illegal immigrant and deported. The couple agreed that the mother temporarily would move back to Colombia. From there, they believed she would have a better chance of obtaining legal residency in the United States. The parents agreed that the mother would take E.G. back to Colombia with her, and that the mother, E.G., and her older daughter, C.A. would all move to the United States once the mother obtained legal status. The mother and E.G., who was two years old at the time, moved to Colombia on December 7, 2008. What was intended to be a short stay in Colombia turned into a stay of two-and-a-half years. While the mother and E.G. were living in Colombia, the father worked on petitions seeking permission for the mother and C.A. to enter the United States legally. He filed a petition for the mother in January 2009 and for C.A. in December 2009. C.A.'s petition was granted on December 30, 2010. The mother's petition was denied because she had previously entered the United States illegally and therefore was excluded from reentering for ten years. Believing that the father would take good care of both girls and that it would improve her chances of obtaining a waiver if both of her daughters were living in the United States, the mother agreed to let both C.A. and E.G. move to the United States. The father returned to Colombia to pick up the girls, and he flew with them back to the United States on May 28, 2011. E.G. was approximately four-and-a-half years old at the time. When the father and girls arrived in the United States in May 2011, they lived in the father's residence in Framingham, Massachusetts. In December 2011, the father informed the mother that he would be sending C.A. back to Colombia. The mother demanded that he also return E.G., who was then five years old, but the father refused. The mother's suspicions of an affair were confirmed when she spoke with C.A. upon C.A.'s return to Colombia in February 2012. According to the mother, the father cut off all communication between her and E.G. from December 2011 until October 2013. He obtained a new phone number in February 2012, filed for divorce on April 4, 2012, and in May of 2012, he moved from Framingham to Quincy, Massachusetts, with E.G. and McShane. The father did not inform the mother of the move or of their new address, thereby interfering with her ability to communicate with her daughter. When E.G. began kindergarten at a school in Quincy in the fall of 2012, the father did not give the school the mother's contact information. On November 21, 2012, the Middlesex Probate and Family Court granted the father's uncontested petition for divorce, giving him sole legal and physical custody of E.G. The father married McShane after the divorce, and on January 2, 2013, the pair wrote an e-mail to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) asking that the mother's immigrant visa petition be terminated. The e-mail explained that the parents had divorced and that the father no longer supported the mother's request.
The mother filed a petition for E.G.'s return in the district court on May 3, 2013. The district court denied the mother's petition for E.G.'s return. The court found that the date of E.G.'s retention was December 2011, when the mother demanded E.G.'s return to Colombia and the father refused. The district court also found that immediately prior to December 2011, the shared intent and settled purpose of both parties was that E.G. live in the United States, as neither parent had intended that E.G. abandon her habitual residence there. While the court found that E.G. had been acclimatized to Colombia by the time that she left in May 2011, it also found that at the time of her retention in December 2011, E.G. was acclimatized to the United States. Thus, the district court concluded that E.G.'s habitual residence was the United States at the time of her retention, and that her retention was not wrongful under the Hague Convention.
The First Circuit noted that in this case, the only factor in dispute was first factor: whether Colombia was E.G.'s habitual residence immediately prior to her retention in the United States in December 2011. This factor was critical, because if the state in which a child is retained was also the child's place of habitual residence immediately prior to retention, that retention is not wrongful under the Hague Convention. Although the Hague Convention does not define the term “habitual residence,” the court had adopted an approach that “begins with the parents' shared intent or settled purpose regarding their child's residence.” Nicolson v. Pappalardo, 605 F.3d 100, 103–04 (1st Cir.2010). As a secondary factor, “evidence of a child's acclimatization to his or her place of residence may also be relevant.” Neergaard–Colón, 2014 WL 2111307, at *2, 752 F.3d at 530. The Court began its analysis with the critical issue of shared intent. Because young children like E.G. lack both the material and psychological means to decide where they will reside, the Courts inquiry focuses on the shared intent or settled purpose of the parents, who are entitled to determine the child's place of habitual residence. Specifically, the Court must determine the intent of the parents at the latest time that their intent was shared, recognizing that the unilateral wishes of one parent alone are not sufficient to change a child's habitual residence. Additionally, it must distinguish between the abandonment of a prior habitual residence and the acquisition of a new one. A person cannot acquire a new habitual residence without forming a settled intention to abandon the one left behind. Otherwise, one is not habitually residing; one is away for a temporary absence of long or short duration.
In this case the district court determined that it was the shared intent and settled purpose of the parties that E.G. live in the United States, and that they did not intend to abandon their habitual residence in the United States in favor of Colombia. The First Circuit found that the mother testified that she never discussed the possibility of the father moving to Colombia, that both parties agreed in 2011 that E.G. should be in the United States, and that she agreed that the father could raise E.G. in the United States. There was ample record support for the district court's factual finding that “[t]here was no condition, agreed or otherwise, that E.G. would return to Colombia if [the mother] could not gain admission into the United States.” Both parties intended for the separation of daughter and mother to end with the mother's return to the United States, not with E.G.'s return to Colombia.The record revealed that the district court's finding was not clearly erroneous. The mother testified under oath that she would still move to the United States to be with E.G. if allowed entry, and she did not request that the father return E.G. to Colombia until December 2011. By that time, nearly seven months had passed without any change in the mother's immigration status, and roughly four months had passed since she first suspected that her husband was engaged in an extramarital affair. Neither realization prompted her to request E.G.'s return prior to the father's announcement that he was sending back C.A. in December 2011.Finding no error—clear or otherwise—in the district court's reasoning and review of the record, the court upheld its factual finding that the parties' shared intent was that E.G. habitually reside in the United States.
The First Circuit observed that in addition to shared parental intent, factors evidencing a child's acclimatization to a given place—like a change in geography combined with the passage of an appreciable period of time—may influence our habitual-residence analysis. Typically, evidence of acclimatization is not enough to establish a child's habitual residence in a new country when contrary parental intent exists. Nevertheless, it may be possible for a child to obtain a new habitual residence without such shared intent in certain limited circumstances. A child can lose its habitual attachment to a place even without a parent's consent if the objective facts point unequivocally to a person's ordinary or habitual residence being in a particular place.
In this case, the district court recognized that after more than two years in Colombia, E.G. had acclimatized to that country by the time she left it in May 2011. Noting that the date of retention was December 2011, however, the district court concluded that by that time, E.G. was once again acclimatized to the United States. E.G. had spent time with her father and half-sisters in Massachusetts, she went on trips to the park and to the swimming pool with a family friend from church, and she had been attending daycare in Massachusetts for nearly four months. Thus, the district court concluded that E.G.'s return to the United States and her acclimatization there, coupled with the parents' shared intent that E.G. live permanently in the United States, established that the United States was E.G.'s habitual residence at the time immediately prior to her retention.
The mother argued that had the district court properly found that Colombia was E.G.'s habitual residence in May 2011, it should have been slow to find that her habitual residence in Colombia had been abandoned in favor of the United States by December 2011.The First Circuit found that this argument cut against the mother's position. A district court should be “slow to infer” that an earlier habitual residence has been abandoned in favor of a new one, in the absence of shared parental intent. It held that was precisely the approach taken by the district court in this case. In the absence of shared parental intent to abandon habitual residence in the United States, the district court was quite correctly slow to infer that E.G.'s earlier habitual residence in the United States had been abandoned. Thedistrict court found, and the record supported, that then-five-year-old E.G. had acclimatized to life in the United States by December 2011. This fact, coupled with the finding of shared parental intent that E.G. live permanently in the United States, showed that E.G.'s habitual residence immediately prior to her retention was the United States. Accordingly, E.G.'s retention in her place of habitual residence was not wrongful under the Hague Convention, and the district court properly denied the mother's petition for the return of E.G. to Colombia.