Golan v. Saada, ___U.S.___, (Supreme Court, June 15, 2022)
[Italy][Petition granted][Ameliorative measures] [Vacated and remanded]
Petitioner Narkis Golan was a citizen of the United States. She met respondent Isacco Saada, an Italian citizen, while attending a wedding in Milan, Italy, in 2014. Golan soon moved to Milan, and the two wed in August 2015. Their son, B. A. S., was born the next summer in Milan, where the family lived for the first two years of B. A. S.’ life. The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair. Saada also yelled and swore at Golan and frequently insulted her and called her names, often in front of other people. Saada once told Golan’s family that he would kill her. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son. In July 2018, Golan flew with B. A. S. to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding. Rather than return as scheduled in August, however, Golan moved into a domestic violence shelter with B. A. S. In September, Saada filed in Italy a criminal complaint for kidnapping and initiated a civil proceeding seeking sole custody of B. A. S.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Sotomayor held that a court is not categorically required to examine all possible ameliorative measures before denying a Hague Convention petition for return of a child to a foreign country once the court has found that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm. The discretion to courts under the Convention and ICARA includes the discretion to determine whether to consider ameliorative measures that could ensure the child’s safe return. Justice Sotomayor found that the Second Circuit’s rule, by instructing district courts to order return “if at all possible,” improperly elevated return above the Convention’s other objectives. Blondin I, 189 F. 3d, at 248. The Convention does not pursue return exclusively or at all costs. Rather, the Convention “is designed to protect the interests of children and their parents,” Lozano, 572 U. S., at 19 (, J., concurring), and children’s interests may point against return in some circumstances. Courts must remain conscious of this purpose, as well as the Convention’s other objectives and requirements, which constrain courts’ discretion to consider ameliorative measures in at least three ways.
First, any consideration of ameliorative measures must prioritize the child’s physical and psychological safety. A court may decline to consider imposing ameliorative measures where it is clear that they would not work because the risk is so grave. Sexual abuse of a child is one example of an intolerable situation. Other physical or psychological abuse, serious neglect, and domestic violence in the home may also constitute an obvious grave risk to the child’s safety that could not readily be ameliorated. A court may also decline to consider imposing ameliorative measures where it reasonably expects that they will not be followed.
Second, consideration of ameliorative measures should abide by the Convention’s requirement that courts addressing return petitions do not usurp the role of the court that will adjudicate the underlying custody dispute. A court ordering ameliorative measures in making a return determination should limit those measures in time and scope to conditions that would permit safe return, without purporting to decide subsequent custody matters or weighing in on permanent arrangements.
Third, any consideration of ameliorative measures must accord with the Convention’s requirement that courts act expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children. Timely resolution of return petitions is important in part because return is a “provisional” remedy to enable final custody determinations to proceed. A requirement to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child,” is in tension with this focus on expeditious resolution. Consideration of ameliorative measures should not cause undue delay in resolution of return petitions.
In this case, the District Court made a finding of grave risk, but never had the opportunity to inquire whether to order or deny return under the correct legal standard. It was appropriate to allow the District Court to apply the proper legal standard in the first instance, see Monasky v. Taglieri, 589 U. S. ___, ___. The Court held that the District Court should determine whether the measures considered are adequate to order return in light of the District Court’s factual findings concerning the risk to B. A. S., bearing in mind that the Convention sets as a primary goal the safety of the child. The order of the Second Circuit was vacated and the case remanded.