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Friday, September 16, 2016

Sadoun v. Guigui, 2016 WL 4444890 ( S.D. Florida, 2016) [France] [Grave Risk of Harm] [Petition denied] [Guardian Ad Litem]

In Sadoun v. Guigui, 2016 WL 4444890 ( S.D. Florida, 2016)  Petitioner and Respondent had 3 children: S.A.E.S., born in 2001, L.E.J.S., born in 2004, and S.L.J.S., born in 2008.  Their eldest daughter was 16 and  not subject to the Convention. The Children were born in Paris and resided there with their parents in the family’s apartment for most of their lives. On June 29, 2015, Respondent and the parties’ four children departed France for the family’s annual trip to their vacation home in Miami Beach, Florida, while Petitioner remained behind in France to attend to his ailing father. Respondent and the Children did not return to Paris on the date they were scheduled to return. The parties stipulated that Petitioner met his burden of presenting a prima facie case of wrongful removal or retention under the Convention. However, the Court found that: (1) Respondent established by clear and convincing evidence that returning the Children to France would expose them to a “grave risk” of physical or psychological harm, and (2) that Respondent  proved by a preponderance of the evidence that S.A.E.S. and L.E.J.S. were of a sufficient age and maturity to permit the Court to appropriately consider their objections to repatriation. 

At trial, the parties’ eldest child, L.L.S., testified that Petitioner drank alcohol every night. Her testimony also revealed that during Petitioner’s drunken tirades, he would call each of the Children “dummy,” tell them they were “really stupid,” and refer to his wife as a “Bitch” or “slut,” which shocked his daughter. Respondent’s sister testified to Petitioner’s increasingly aggressive behavior while drinking and of the verbal onslaughts he unleashed upon his family during these alcohol-infused episodes. She testified “He was already seated with a drink in his hands. As we went on ... the night he kept on drinking and his speech got slurred. Very angry. Very aggressive. He called me a bitch many times in front of the children.” According to Respondent, Petitioner’s belittling of her and the Children was anything but an isolated event. (“[Petitioner’s] verbally abusive. He just recently called me a prostitute in the middle of a wedding in Miami. He is continuously demeaning me. It was terrible.”  According to Petitioner, he was only drunk twice in his life. The Court received a substantial amount of credible testimony that throughout the parties’ seventeen-year marriage, Petitioner exhibited a pattern of coercive behavior towards Respondent that is widely recognized as domestic violence. Respondent’s sister testified that Petitioner isolated Respondent by greatly restricting her ability to travel, unless it was with the parties’ children. Petitioner financially abused Respondent by restricting her access to the couple’s shared financial resources in what appeared to have been an effort to reduce her sense of autonomy. Petitioner directed this pattern of abusive behavior toward his children in a physical manner as well. Muriel Guigui testified that she witnessed instances of Petitioner’s physical abuse of the Children when Petitioner would pull the boys’ ears and drag them to their rooms where he would repeatedly hit them to a point where they screamed out, “[p]lease stop, you’re hurting me.” On one occasion, Muriel entered the room after Petitioner left and found the boys crying with red marks on their bodies where Petitioner had struck them. Respondent convincingly recounted the brutal methods Petitioner frequently employed to “discipline” the children for talking loudly. (“A. He would strike their legs mostly because they were in a protective position. Their arms and legs with the belt. And usually to the head, a lot of times in the head. It’s hard to show proof.”). The Court also received into evidence an audio recording of the parties’ two sons being viciously beaten by Petitioner while the boys unsuccessfully begged for mercy. The Guardian Ad Litem discussed several instances of physical abuse that the Children brought up during their individual interviews. No one could reasonably contend that when Petitioner viciously struck his sixteen-year-old daughter in the head and possibly rendered her unconscious—in front of his seven-year-old daughter —that action was anything short of child abuse. Victims of spousal abuse often do not come forward to report instances of domestic violence for many reasons and, therefore, a lack of near-contemporaneous documentation does not necessarily render a victim’s claims unbelievable. The Court found that Respondent’s credible testimony that Petitioner harmed S.A.E.S and L.E.J.S. as a result of the disproportionate force that Petitioner frequently inflicted on them with either a belt or his hands—whether closed or open—together with Respondent’s unrefuted testimony about Petitioner’s emotional torment and physical abuse of her and L.L.S., “demonstrated a non-negligible probability of [Petitioner] someday physically injuring” the Children. Petitioner’s physical abuse of his children, the overwhelming evidence of psychological abuse of the Children and Respondent—particularly when Petitioner hurls obscene epithets at her in their presence—other indicia of domestic violence, and Petitioner’s reckless disregard for his family’s safety when he drove while intoxicated, led the Court to an obvious conclusion: it would be irresponsible to think the risk to the children less than grave.

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