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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Application of Gonzales v Batres, 2015 WL 12831299 ( D. NM, 2015)[Mexico] [Habitual Residence] [Petition granted]

          In re Application of Gonzales v Batres, 2015 WL 12831299 ( D. NM, 2015) the district court granted the petition and ordered the immediate return of the Children to Petitioner’s custody in Mexico. Petitioner and Respondent were Mexican citizens. Respondent was a lawful permanent resident of the United States living in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  After Respondent lawfully entered the United States, he hired a third party to bring Petitioner and her two children from a previous relationship unlawfully into the United States.  After Petitioner moved into Respondent’s home their children E.E.C.M. and D.M.C.M. were born in that city. Both of the Children were United States citizens. Petitioner decided to end the relationship with Respondent, and on April 3, 2013, without informing Respondent, took the Children, along with her two older children, to Gómez Palacio, Durango, Mexico, where Petitioner and her four children moved in with Petitioner’s mother. Respondent discovered Petitioner’s whereabouts and traveled to Gómez Palacio on April 5, 2013, at which time he saw Petitioner and the Children. Respondent visited the Children in Gómez Palacio approximately every other weekend thereafter, sometimes taking them to the home of his mother.  The parties entered into an Agreement on November 29, 2013,  which gave Petitioner primary custody of the Children while allowing Respondent to visit with the Children every other weekend. After picking up the Children for a scheduled visitation on Saturday, December 14, 2013, Respondent returned to the United States with the Children without Petitioner’s consent. 

The district court found that the Children’s habitual residence was in Durango, Mexico. Although the Children were only living in Mexico for approximately eight months prior to their removal, Re Bates and Feder made clear that habitual residence may be established in such a brief period if the parents’ shared intentions and the children’s living arrangements “amount[ ] to a purpose with a sufficient degree of continuity to enable it properly to be described as settled.” Re Bates, 1989 WL 1683783. This may be true even if the Children spent a majority of their lives in the United States before arriving in Mexico, and even though the Children were U.S. citizens, seeFriedrich I, 938 F.2d at 1401. Here, E.E.C.M. had begun schooling in Durango, and D.M.C.M. had sometimes received medical care in that state, both of which are strong evidence of settled purpose. Moreover, although Respondent was plainly not happy about the prospect of his children living away from him in Mexico, his frequent visits to Gómez Palacio and the Agreement he worked out with Petitioner, whatever its legal effect, were evidence that both parents were planning their lives around the Children living in Durango.  The fact that a child has spent most of his or her life in one country, while sometimes relevant, is not dispositive. Feder, 63 F.3d at 224. The Court rejected Respondents argument that it was Petitioner who wrongfully removed the Children from the United States without Respondent’s consent, implying that the Children’s habitual residence should be measured from just prior to that removal. However, Respondent never filed a petition under the Hague Convention alleging that Petitioner wrongfully removed the Children. Once a petition is filed, a court should consider only whether a respondent’s removals of a child are wrongful” rather than “whether the petitioner’s removals of the child were wrongful.” Ohlander, 114 F.3d at 1539-40. Thus, the fact that the Children may have been habitual residents of the United States until Petitioner took them to Durango, Mexico was irrelevant to the proceedings. The appropriate point in time to consider in this case was not when Petitioner fled with the Children to Mexico, but when Respondent fled with the Children to the United States. Because the parents’ shared intentions showed acclimatization and a degree of settled purpose for the Children in Mexico on the date of their removal from that country, the Court held, inter alia, that the Children’s habitual residence at the time of removal was Mexico. 

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