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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Matter of Katz v Katz, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2014 WL 2198516 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.)

Appellate Division Holds Family Court Had Jurisdiction to Determine Father's Petition for Custody Even Though Court of Dominican Republic, Applying Hague Convention, Denied His Petition for Return to the United States. 

In Matter of Katz v Katz, --- N.Y.S.2d ----, 2014 WL 2198516 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.) the father filed a petition for custody in the Family Court alleging that, on October 2, 2011, the mother took the parties' child, who had been residing in the Bronx, to the Dominican Republic without his permission. The Family Court held the matter in abeyance pending a determination in the Dominican Republic with regard to the father's application there for a return of the child pursuant to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. On October 5, 2012, the Civil Chamber of the Court of Children and Adolescents of the Judicial District of Santo Domingo rejected the father's request for a return of the child, and directed that the child remain in the company of the mother in the Dominican Republic, finding that if the child were returned to the United States she would be exposed to a violation of her fundamental rights due to issues of domestic violence. Family Court dismissed the father's petition for custody, concluding that it was bound to do so pursuant to the order issued by the court in the Dominican Republic.

The Appellate Division reversed. It observed that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Domestic Relations Law art 5-A) governs a New York State court's jurisdiction in international child custody matters. Domestic Relations Law § 76, which establishes initial child custody jurisdiction, provides, inter alia, that a court of this State has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if this State is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding (Domestic Relations Law §76[a] ). "Home state" is defined  as the state in which a child lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding (Domestic Relations Law § 75-a[7] ). Pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 75-d[1], a "court of this state shall treat a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States".   The Convention provides that a child abducted in violation of rights of custody must be returned to his or her country of habitual residence, unless certain exceptions apply. A decision under the Convention is not a determination on the merits of any custody issue, but leaves custodial decisions to the courts of the country of habitual residence. It was undisputed that the United States was the child's country of habitual residence, and that, at the time the petition was filed, New York was the child's "home state." Thus, the Family Court had jurisdiction to determine the father's petition for custody.  Moreover,  the denial, by the court in the Dominican Republic, of the father's application for a return of the child pursuant to the Convention, did not preempt his custody proceeding (see  In re T.L.B., 272 P3d 1148 [Colo App]. Accordingly, it held that the Family Court erred in dismissing the father's petition.