In Sierra v Tapasco, 2016 WL 5402933 (S.D. Texas, 2016) Petitioner Jaimes and Respondent Nasly Ximena Riascos Tapasco (“Riascos”) met in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2006. They moved in together and on July 23, 2009, they had a child, K.J.R. In 2011, one of their family arguments grew into a domestic dispute in which the police were called. Jaimes’s pleaded guilty to the charge. Riascos was a Colombian national and Jaimes was a Mexican national. Although Riascos was in the United States on a visa, Jaimes was here illegally. AS a result of his arrest for domestic violence he departed the country voluntarily, leaving open the possibility of returning to the United States legally in the future. Riascos agreed to allow K.J.R. to return to Mexico with Jaimes and executed a notarized travel authorization to this end. The parties disagreed as to whether K.J.R.’s move to Mexico was intended to be temporary or permanent. Riascos testified that she returned to Mexico in July 2014 because of Jaimes threats to keep the child from her and to celebrate K.J.R.’s birthday. Riascos alleged that although she did not tell Jaimes she was coming to Mexico for K.J.R.’s birthday, she did notify him once she arrived.. She testified that after her arrival she went to Jaimes’s home with his sister because she was afraid to go alone on account of his recent threats. When they arrived, Jaimes allegedly began verbally and physically assaulting Riascos in front of his sister and daughter, throwing K.J.R. onto the bed during the altercation. Riascos testified that it was only after enduring this abuse and hearing how unhappy her daughter was that she decided to leave Mexico with K.J.R. immediately.. According to Jaimes, he was not aware that Riascos was in Mexico on the eve of his daughter’s birthday and he never saw her. He testified that he slept alone at his home and early the next morning his sister called to tell him that K.J.R. was gone.. Jaimes immediately notified the authorities who began a search for the girl, but it was not until November that he received official confirmation that she was residing in Houston, Texas with Riascos.
The district court found that Jaimes and Riascos shared a mutual intent that the United States be K.J.R.’s habitual residence for the first three years of her life. They lived here together as a family with no intention of leaving until Jaimes was faced with immigration difficulties. The question was whether the parties had shared intent for K.J.R. to abandon her habitual residence here and establish a new one in Mexico when she left the United States with her father in October 2012. The Court observed that whether the parties thought that Jaimes might one day return to the United States did not mean that the United States remained the child’s habitual residence. Norinder v. Fuentes, 657 F.3d 526, 534 (7th Cir. 2011) Because parents will often disagree about what their shared intentions were, once litigation is underway, courts must take account of the parents’ actions as well as what they say. In such cases, context, rather than specific periods of time spent in a particular location, is the key to the concept of habitual residence. Berezowsky, 765 F.3d at 467. When parties argue that their intent was to eventually return rather than to establish a new residence, courts will look to the circumstances of the family’s move to assess parental intent. Acts of permanence such as selling cars, belongings, and homes, as well as the type of belongings brought to the new residence, often indicate the parties’ intention to make a permanent move.
The record indicated that K.J.R. and Jaimes’s move to Mexico was not temporary. Jaimes signed over his tax refunds and bank accounts in America so that Riascos could access the funds after he left; he signed a voluntary immigration departure form, purchased one-way tickets to Mexico City, obtained a written release from Riascos to take the child, and departed with K.J.R. Soon after, he rented and established a home for the family. Although she herself never fully moved to Mexico, up until six months before the abduction Riascos regularly visited K.J.R. and Jaimes for extended periods of time.. During those visits, the three of them lived together under a single roof as a family. K.J.R. never returned to America with her mother after any of her visits. K.J.R.’s bedroom in Mexico was full of all of her belongings, many of which Respondent brought to her there. Furthermore, after K.J.R.’s fourth birthday, Riascos took steps to purchase the property Jaimes and K.J.R. were living in as an investment because it had another apartment attached that the family could rent out. Most importantly, K.J.R. was also enrolled in school in Mexico, which was slated to begin over a year after her fourth birthday. This was sufficient contextual evidence that the parties had a shared intent that Mexico was to be K.J.R.’s habitual residence. The court also found that the record discredited Riascos’s claims that the agreement was for K.J.R. to return to the United States after her fourth birthday. The record suggested that the parents did in fact “jointly develop the intention” that K.J.R. was to abandon her habitual residence in the United States and establish a new habitual residence in Mexico. The district court found that Jaimes established that Mexico was the habitual residence of the child. It then found that under Mexican Law of patria postes Petitioner had rights of custody and that he was exercising those rights at the time of the removal, thus establishing a prima facie case.
The district court rejected the Respondents grave risk of harm defense. It observed that under Article 13(b), spousal abuse is only relevant if it seriously endangers the child. Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 103–04 (2d Cir. 2013). There was no evidence that K.J.R. was targeted or at risk during the 2011 domestic violence incident, or that she even observed it. Riascos’s speculation and the parties’ conflicting testimony was insufficient to meet the high threshold for a grave harm defense. It noted that the exceptions to return are prospective, not retrospective. Sanchez v. R.G.L., 761 F.3d 495, 509 (5th Cir. 2014). As a result, past acts of domestic abuse or drug activity in the home are insufficient to show grave risk of harm. When the child observed parental abuse in the past, if the parents’ current living situation makes it unlikely that the child will do so again, there is no grave risk of harm. The Court, inter alia, also rejected the argument that K.J.R. would be in grave danger if she was returned because Jaimes lived in one of the highest crime areas of the city. Living conditions marked by poverty, sociopolitical unrest, or community violence are insufficient to show grave risk of harm or intolerable situation.