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Friday, May 10, 2019

Capalungan v Lee, 2019 WL 1872978 (S.D. Ohio, 2019)[Australia] [Habitual residence] [Recommendation that petition be denied]

         In Capalungan v Lee, 2019 WL 1872978 (S.D. Ohio, 2019) the Magistrate judge recommended that the Petition for return be denied.

         The parties were the biological parents of a six-year-old child, EZL. Petitioner was EZL’s mother and a resident of Australia. Respondent was EZL’s father and a resident of the United States. For the first four and a half years of EZL’s life, Petitioner was his primary caregiver. In February 2017, Petitioner brought EZL to the United States for a visit with Respondent. The parties agree EZL was to be returned to Australia to the custody of Petitioner. Respondent conceded that he violated the parties’ agreement that EZL be returned to Australia.

The court observed that in cases of wrongful retention, courts must determine the child’s habitual residence at the time the wrongful retention began. At the time of his alleged wrongful retention, EZL was five years old. For children this age, the Sixth Circuit generally applies an acclimatization standard to determine habitual residence, asking “whether the child has been physically present in the country for an amount of time sufficient for acclimatization and whether the place has a degree of settled purpose from the child’s perspective.” EZL had lived in the United States for approximately ten months before the alleged wrongful retention. During that time, he developed close relationships with family members here, attended school, made friends, and participated in a variety of extracurricular activities. At the time of the alleged wrongful retention, the United States was therefore EZL’s habitual residence. As a result, the Hague Convention cannot provide relief for Petitioner here.

Petitioner and Respondent were the biological parents of EZL. The parties began their relationship in the Philippines where Petitioner was a nurse and Respondent was a doctor. Respondent moved to the United States in April 2011. EZL was born on August 31, 2012 in the Philippines. At that time, Respondent was living in the United States. While Petitioner and EZL resided in the Philippines, the parties did not have any custody agreement or order. Although Respondent did not pay child support to Petitioner, Respondent’s father provided the parties with financial support when Respondent was in the Philippines. Additionally, the parties set up a joint bank account in which they save money given to them as gifts for EZL.

Petitioner traveled to the United States in December 2017 for the purpose of taking EZL back to Australia. Respondent refused to give her EZL’s passport, and she was unable to bring EZL home with her. Before Petitioner returned to Australia, Respondent agreed to return EZL when his U.S. passport was issued. On January 8, 2018, shortly after Petitioner returned to Australia, EZL received his permanent resident card.  Towards the end of January, Respondent informed Petitioner that he would not return EZL to Australia when EZL’s passport was issued. Petitioner contacted the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to enroll in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) and put a hold on EZL’s United States passport. In response, Respondent burned EZL’s expired Filipino passport and sent Petitioner photos of the burnt passport. Petitioner subsequently withdrew EZL from CPIAP, which allowed his application for a passport to be processed. Throughout February and March 2018, the parties’ relationship continued to deteriorate. On February 16, 2018, the United States issued EZL’s passport. Respondent repeatedly refused to return EZL to Australia. Although Respondent had previously represented that the parties’ Shared Parenting Plan would only be used to enroll EZL in school, to justify his refusal to return EZL, he insisted that it gave him custody of EZL and therefore he was under no obligation to return EZL to Petitioner as the parties had agreed. On July 13, 2018, the United States government issued EZL’s certificate of citizenship, which indicated that EZL became a citizen of the United States on January 6, 2018. Respondent did not return EZL to Australia. Petitioner filed the Petition on October 23, 2018. 

The ourt noted that when determining a child’s habitual residence, the Sixth Circuit applies one of two standards depending on the facts of the case. Id. at 407. “The primary approach looks to the place in which the child has become ‘acclimatized.’” Id. (quoting Ahmed v. Ahmed, 867 F.3d 682, 687 (6th Cir. 2017)). When applying the acclimatization standard, “the question is whether the child has been physically present in the country for an amount of time sufficient for acclimatization and whether the place has a degree of settled purpose from the child’s perspective.” Taglieri, 907 F.3d at 408 (citation and internal quotations omitted). “District courts ask these sorts of questions in determining a child’s acclimatization: whether the child participated in academic activities, social engagements, sports programs and excursions, and whether the child formed meaningful connections with the country’s people and places.” This analysis is guided by five principles: First, habitual residence should not be determined through the technical rules governing legal residence or common law domicile. Instead, courts should look closely at the facts and circumstances of each case. Second, because the Hague Convention is concerned with the habitual residence of the child, the court should consider only the child’s experience in determining habitual residence. Third, this inquiry should focus exclusively on the child’s past experience. Any future plans that the parents may have are irrelevant to our inquiry. Fourth, a person can have only one habitual residence. Finally, a child’s habitual residence is not determined by the nationality of the child’s primary care-giver. Only a change in geography and the passage of time may combine to establish a new habitual residence. Robert the second approach, a back-up inquiry for children too young or too disabled to become acclimatized, looks to ‘shared parental intent. Taglieri (quoting Ahmed, 867 F.3d at 689). This standard requires courts “to identify the location where the parents intended the child to live.” Taglieri, 907 F.3d at 408.

To answer the question of which standard applied the court had to first determines when the alleged wrongful retention of EZL began. In the case of a wrongful retention, the time begins to run either (1) from the date the child remains with the abducting parent despite the clearly communicated desire of the left-behind parent to have the child returned, or (2) when the acts of the abducting parent are so unequivocal that the left-behind parent knows or should know, that the child will not be returned[.]Diagne v. Demartino, No. 2:18-CV-11793, 2018 WL 4385659, at *11 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 14, 2018) (internal citations omitted); see also Djeric v. Djeric, No. 2:18-CV-1780, 2019 WL 1046893, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 5, 2019) 

The Court indicated that in late December 2017 and early January 2018, Petitioner traveled to the United States with the intention of returning EZL to Australia. During that time period, she demanded that Respondent provide her with EZL’s passport and communicated her intention to return to Australia with her son. Respondent, nonetheless, refused to give Petitioner EZL’s passport, and EZL remained with Respondent in the United States. The Court found that the alleged wrongful retention began in late December 2017.At that time, EZL was five years old. The Sixth Circuit applies the shared parental intent standard to “infants,” “especially young children,” and children “too disabled to become acclimatized.” Taglieri, 907 F.3d at 407–08; Ahmed, 867 F.3d at 690. Courts in the Sixth Circuit generally apply this standard to children who are two years old or younger at the time of the wrongful removal or retention. See, e.g., Taglieri, 907 F.3d at 408. For children who are older at the time of the alleged wrongful removal or retention, courts in the Sixth Circuit generally apply the acclimatization standard. See, e.g., Jenkins v. Jenkins, 569 F.3d 549, 556 (6th Cir. 2009) With these guideposts in mind, the Court concluded that the acclimatization standard governs the habitual residence analysis.

The central question in this case was whether in late December 2017, EZL had been physically present in the United States for an amount of time sufficient for acclimatization and whether the United States had a degree of settled purpose from his perspective. Unfortunately for Petitioner, the Undersigned is required to determine EZL’s habitual residence at the time of the wrongful retention. And Petitioner had not met her burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that Australia was EZL’s habitual residence in late December 2017. As its analysis made clear, for every piece of evidence that suggested Australia was EZL’s habitual residence in February 2017, a similar, if not identical, piece of evidence supported the conclusion that the United States was EZL’s habitual residence in late December 2017. In both countries, EZL lived with extended family and developed a particularly close relationship with one of his cousins. In both countries, EZL actively explored the local community, attended church, and went on excursions to parks and museums. In both countries, EZL attended school for a portion of the relevant time period. In short, if Australia was EZL’s habitual residence in February 2017, the Court had difficulty seeing how the United States was not EZL’s habitual residence in late December 2017. Under Sixth Circuit precedent, EZL had acclimatized to the United States by the time of the alleged wrongful retention in late December 2017. Consequently, the Hague Convention could not afford Petitioner relief here.

The Court pointed out that in coming to its conclusion, this is a cautionary tale about the limits of the Sixth Circuit’s acclimatization standard. In February 2018, when Petitioner discussed returning EZL to Australia, Respondent refused, stating, “[y]ou should have realised [sic] [EZL] is here and I have the edge...”. That is ultimately what this case was about. By refusing to return EZL to Australia consistent with the parties’ agreement, Respondent has manufactured a favorable status quo that he would undoubtedly rely on in any future custody proceedings between the parties. But that status quo is contrary to the parties’ shared intent, which the acclimatization standard does not permit courts to consider in resolving the habitual residence question in cases like this one. Rather than incentivizing behavior consistent with the purposes of the Convention, the application of that standard here appeared to reward Respondent for conduct that undermines the Convention’s mission. 

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