UNITED STATES - FEDERAL JURISDICTION
United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
7 March 2013
Upheld on appeal
Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b) | Objections of the Child to a Return - Art. 13(2) | Settlement of the Child - Art. 12(2)
The Court noted that as a matter of federal law the grave risk objection must be demonstrated by "clear and convincing evidence" and to that end, courts must determine whether children would, once returned, face imminent danger prior to the resolution of the underlying custody dispute. Even if a grave risk of harm were established, the children should still be returned if adequate guarantees of child protection could be found in the children's country.
The Court ruled that the mother had failed to meet this standard. While there was evidence that her relationship with the father disintegrated amidst physical and psychological incidents of abuse, there was little to suggest that the same applied to the children. The older of the two children had testified as to having been hit by the father on three occasions, but none of those occasions was recent, the last occurring over seven years ago. Furthermore, none of the incidents required medical attention. These facts alone did not support a finding that a grave risk of physical harm existed. There was also no evidence that the children were presently suffering from any psychiatric infirmity brought about in part or in whole by the father's behaviour, or that upon return to Mexico, the same could be expected.
The Court found that the older child's testimony indicated that she preferred to remain in the United States of America not only on account of superficial concerns, but also because she had particularized mature objections to returning to Mexico. She had personally witnessed her parents fighting and testified that she did not want to live with her father anymore. She also stated that her teachers were more helpful and instructive than those in Mexico. She also understood that her immigration status would be a problem for her. She testified that she knew that certain opportunities would be limited, specifically employment opportunities, and she had also understood that she needed to figure out a way to remove those barriers.
Given that the child had balanced the risks and rewards of her status displayed a level of maturity that ought to be considered. The Court concluded that she was mature enough to have her objection to repatriation honoured.
The Court affirmed that the exception must be proved by a "preponderance of the evidence". This was a lower standard of proof than the grave risk defence, perhaps to acknowledge that the passage of time in the new environment brought a likelihood of developmentally, or psychologically, meaningful attachment.
The Court noted that whilst the age of an abducted child was a factor to be considered, courts were not in total agreement as to the existence of a correlation between age and degree of settlement. Having reviewed American case law, the Court held that it could not be said that an older child was either less settled or more settled than a younger child.
The fact the older child had lived in Mexico for a large percentage of her life did not alone suggest that this factor weighed against a finding of settlement. Unlike concealment cases in which a child's social development was prevented, in the present case the older child's age actually enabled her to be part of society. The Court held that age carried little weight as regards the younger child.
The Court found that the living situations of the children did not suggest the "security, stability and permanence" required to meet the well-settled exception. However, both children had consistently attended school and church in the same community since their arrival to New York. The older child had performed exceptionally well in school, but language had been an impediment to the younger child, though the Court noted that he spoke well during his camera interview.
Both children had friends with whom they socialized outside of school and entertained at home.
In the light of the above, the Court found that the totality of factors supported a finding that the mother had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the older child was well-settled. The only factors against such a finding were the child's immigration status and lack of stability of residence. However, her performance in school, rapid acquisition of English proficiency, involvement in church, establishment of friends and a social life suggested "significant connections to the new country".
While the argument that the younger child was well-settled was weaker, on account of his school performance, the Court nevertheless found it sufficiently persuasive. Like his sister, he had established that he had friends and family in Brooklyn with whom he was close, attended church and had essentially no memory of similar ties to Mexico, having left at the age of seven. Moreover, it could not be disputed that a significant disruption would occur to him if separated from his siblings, his mother, and the only life he knew.
Author of the summary: Peter McEleavy
The father's appeal was dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on 18 July 2013 by summary order: Broca v Giron 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 14489 (2d Cir. 2013), see here.
The interpretation of the central concept of habitual residence (Preamble, Art. 3, Art. 4) has proved increasingly problematic in recent years with divergent interpretations emerging in different jurisdictions. There is a lack of uniformity as to whether in determining habitual residence the emphasis should be exclusively on the child, with regard paid to the intentions of the child's care givers, or primarily on the intentions of the care givers. At least partly as a result, habitual residence may appear a very flexible connecting factor in some Contracting States yet much more rigid and reflective of long term residence in others.
Any assessment of the interpretation of habitual residence is further complicated by the fact that cases focusing on the concept may concern very different factual situations. For example habitual residence may arise for consideration following a permanent relocation, or a more tentative move, albeit one which is open-ended or potentially open-ended, or indeed the move may be for a clearly defined period of time.
United States Federal Appellate case law may be taken as an example of the full range of interpretations which exist with regard to habitual residence.
Child Centred Focus
The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has advocated strongly for a child centred approach in the determination of habitual residence:
Friedrich v. Friedrich, 983 F.2d 1396, 125 ALR Fed. 703 (6th Cir. 1993) (6th Cir. 1993) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 142]
Robert v. Tesson, 507 F.3d 981 (6th Cir. 2007) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/US 935].
Villalta v. Massie, No. 4:99cv312-RH (N.D. Fla. Oct. 27, 1999) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 221].
Combined Child's Connection / Parental Intention Focus
The United States Courts of Appeals for the 3rd and 8th Circuits, have espoused a child centred approach but with reference equally paid to the parents' present shared intentions.
The key judgment is that of Feder v. Evans-Feder, 63 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 1995) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 83].
Silverman v. Silverman, 338 F.3d 886 (8th Cir. 2003) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 530];
Karkkainen v. Kovalchuk, 445 F.3d 280 (3rd Cir. 2006) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 879].
In the latter case a distinction was drawn between the situation of very young children, where particular weight was placed on parental intention(see for example: Baxter v. Baxter, 423 F.3d 363 (3rd Cir. 2005) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 808]) and that of older children where the impact of parental intention was more limited.
Parental Intention Focus
The judgment of the Federal Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Mozes v. Mozes, 239 F.3d 1067 (9th Cir. 2001) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 301] has been highly influential in providing that there should ordinarily be a settled intention to abandon an existing habitual residence before a child can acquire a new one.
This interpretation has been endorsed and built upon in other Federal appellate decisions so that where there was not a shared intention on the part of the parents as to the purpose of the move this led to an existing habitual residence being retained, even though the child had been away from that jurisdiction for an extended period of time. See for example:
Holder v. Holder, 392 F.3d 1009 (9th Cir 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 777]: United States habitual residence retained after 8 months of an intended 4 year stay in Germany;
Ruiz v. Tenorio, 392 F.3d 1247 (11th Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 780]: United States habitual residence retained during 32 month stay in Mexico;
Tsarbopoulos v. Tsarbopoulos, 176 F. Supp.2d 1045 (E.D. Wash. 2001) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 482]: United States habitual residence retained during 27 month stay in Greece.
The Mozes approach has also been approved of by the Federal Court of Appeals for the 2nd and 7th Circuits:
Gitter v. Gitter, 396 F.3d 124 (2nd Cir. 2005) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 776];
Koch v. Koch, 450 F.3d 703 (2006 7th Cir.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 878].
It should be noted that within the Mozes approach the 9th Circuit did acknowledge that given enough time and positive experience, a child's life could become so firmly embedded in the new country as to make it habitually resident there notwithstanding lingering parental intentions to the contrary.
There are variations of approach in other jurisdictions:
The Supreme Court of Austria has ruled that a period of residence of more than six months in a State will ordinarily be characterized as habitual residence, and even if it takes place against the will of the custodian of the child (since it concerns a factual determination of the centre of life).
8Ob121/03g, Oberster Gerichtshof [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AT 548].
In the Province of Quebec, a child centred focus is adopted:
In Droit de la famille 3713, No 500-09-010031-003 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 651], the Cour d'appel de Montréal held that the determination of the habitual residence of a child was a purely factual issue to be decided in the light of the circumstances of the case with regard to the reality of the child's life, rather than that of his parents. The actual period of residence must have endured for a continuous and not insignificant period of time; the child must have a real and active link to the place, but there is no minimum period of residence which is specified.
A child centred, factual approach is also evident in German case law:
2 UF 115/02, Oberlandesgericht Karlsruhe [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 944].
This has led to the Federal Constitutional Court accepting that a habitual residence may be acquired notwithstanding the child having been wrongfully removed to the new State of residence:
Bundesverfassungsgericht, 2 BvR 1206/98, 29. Oktober 1998 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 233].
The Constitutional Court upheld the finding of the Higher Regional Court that the children had acquired a habitual residence in France, notwithstanding the nature of their removal there. This was because habitual residence was a factual concept and during their nine months there, the children had become integrated into the local environment.
Alternative approaches have been adopted when determining the habitual residence of children. On occasion, strong emphasis has been placed on parental intentions. See:
Family Appeal 1026/05 Ploni v. Almonit [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/Il 865];
Family Application 042721/06 G.K. v Y.K. [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/Il 939].
However, reference has been made to a more child centred approach in other cases. See:
decision of the Supreme Court in C.A. 7206/03, Gabai v. Gabai, P.D. 51(2)241;
FamA 130/08 H v H [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/Il 922].
In contrast to the Mozes approach the requirement of a settled intention to abandon an existing habitual residence was specifically rejected by a majority of the New Zealand Court of Appeal. See
S.K. v. K.P.  3 NZLR 590 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 816].
A child centred, factual approach is evident in Swiss case law:
5P.367/2005/ast, Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung (Tribunal Fédéral, 2ème Chambre Civile) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 841].
The standard approach is to consider the settled intention of the child's carers in conjunction with the factual reality of the child's life.
Re J. (A Minor) (Abduction: Custody Rights)  2 AC 562,  2 All ER 961,  2 FLR 450, sub nom C. v. S. (A Minor) (Abduction) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 2]. For academic commentary on the different models of interpretation given to habitual residence. See:
R. Schuz, "Habitual Residence of Children under the Hague Child Abduction Convention: Theory and Practice", Child and Family Law Quarterly Vol 13, No. 1, 2001, p. 1;
R. Schuz, "Policy Considerations in Determining Habitual Residence of a Child and the Relevance of Context", Journal of Transnational Law and Policy Vol. 11, 2001, p. 101.
The issue of how to respond when a taking parent who is a primary carer threatens not to accompany a child back to the State of habitual residence if a return order is made, is a controversial one.
There are examples from many Contracting States where courts have taken a very strict approach so that, other than in exceptional situations, the Article 13(1)(b) exception has not been upheld where the non-return argument has been raised, see:
4Ob1523/96, Oberster Gerichtshof [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AT 561]
M.G. v. R.F., 2002 R.J.Q. 2132 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 762]
N.P. v. A.B.P., 1999 R.D.F. 38 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 764]
In this case, a non-return order was made since the facts were exceptional. There had been a genuine threat to the mother, which had put her quite obviously and rightfully in fear for her safety if she returned to Israel. The mother was taken to Israel on false pretences, sold to the Russian Mafia and re-sold to the father who forced her into prostitution. She was locked in, beaten by the father, raped and threatened. The mother was genuinely in a state of fear and could not be expected to return to Israel. It would be wholly inappropriate to send the child back without his mother to a father who had been buying and selling women and running a prostitution business.
United Kingdom - England and Wales
C. v. C. (Minor: Abduction: Rights of Custody Abroad)  1 WLR 654 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 34]
Re C. (Abduction: Grave Risk of Psychological Harm)  1 FLR 1145 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 269]
However, in a more recent English Court of Appeal judgment, the C. v. C. approach has been refined:
Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Grave Risk of Harm)  3 FCR 43,  EWCA Civ 908 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 469]
In this case, it was ruled that a mother's refusal to return was capable of amounting to a defence because the refusal was not an act of unreasonableness, but came about as a result of an illness she was suffering from. It may be noted, however, that a return order was nevertheless still made. In this context reference may also be made to the decisions of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Re E. (Children) (Abduction: Custody Appeal)  UKSC 27,  1 A.C. 144 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1068] and Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKSC 10,  2 A.C. 257 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1147], in which it was accepted that the anxieties of a respondent mother about return, which were not based upon objective risk to her but nevertheless were of such intensity as to be likely, in the event of a return, to destabilise her parenting of the child to the point at which the child's situation would become intolerable, could in principle meet the threshold of the Article 13(1)(b) exception.
Oberlandesgericht Dresden, 10 UF 753/01, 21 January 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 486]
Oberlandesgericht Köln, 21 UF 70/01, 12 April 2001 [INCADAT: HC/E/DE 491]
Previously a much more liberal interpretation had been adopted:
Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart, 17 UF 260/98, 25 November 1998 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 323]
5P_71/2003/min, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 27 mars 2003 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 788]
5P_65/2002/bnm, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 11 avril 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 789]
5P_367/2005/ast, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 15 novembre 2005 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 841]
5A_285/2007/frs, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 16 août 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 955]
5A_479/2012, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 13 juillet 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 1179]
K.S. v. L.S.  3 NZLR 837 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 770]
United Kingdom - Scotland
McCarthy v. McCarthy  SLT 743 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 26]
United States of America
Panazatou v. Pantazatos, No. FA 96071351S (Conn. Super. Ct., 1997) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USs 97]
In other Contracting States, the approach taken with regard to non-return arguments has varied:
In Australia, early Convention case law exhibited a very strict approach adopted with regard to non-return arguments, see:
Director-General Department of Families, Youth and Community Care and Hobbs, 24 September 1999, Family Court of Australia (Brisbane) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 294]
Director General of the Department of Family and Community Services v. Davis (1990) FLC 92-182 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 293]
In State Central Authority v. Ardito, 20 October 1997 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 283], the Family Court of Australia at Melbourne did find the grave risk of harm exception to be established where the mother would not return, but in this case the mother had been denied entry into the United States of America, the child's State of habitual residence.
Following the judgment of the High Court of Australia (the highest court in the Australian judicial system) in the joint appeals DP v. Commonwealth Central Authority; J.L.M. v. Director-General, NSW Department of Community Services  HCA 39, (2001) 180 ALR 402 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 346, 347], greater attention has been focused on the post-return situation facing abducted children.
In the context of a primary-carer taking parent refusing to return to the child's State of habitual residence see: Director General, Department of Families v. RSP.  FamCA 623 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 544].
In French case law, a permissive approach to Article 13(1)(b) has been replaced with a much more restrictive interpretation. For examples of the initial approach, see:
Cass. Civ 1ère 12. 7. 1994, S. c. S.. See Rev. Crit. 84 (1995), p. 96 note H. Muir Watt; JCP 1996 IV 64 note Bosse-Platière, Defrénois 1995, art. 36024, note J. Massip [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 103]
Cass. Civ 1ère, 22 juin 1999, No de RG 98-17902 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 498]
And for examples of the stricter interpretation, see:
Cass Civ 1ère, 25 janvier 2005, No de RG 02-17411 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 708]
CA Agen, 1 décembre 2011, No de RG 11/01437 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/FR 1172]
In Israeli case law there are contrasting examples of the judicial response to non-return arguments:
Civil Appeal 4391/96 Ro v. Ro [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 832]
in contrast with:
Family Appeal 621/04 D.Y v. D.R [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 833]
Decision of the Supreme Court, 7 October 1998, I CKN 745/98 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 700]
The Supreme Court noted that it would not be in the child's best interests if she were deprived of her mother's care, were the latter to choose to remain in Poland. However, it equally affirmed that if the child were to stay in Poland it would not be in her interests to be deprived of the care of her father. For these reasons, the Court concluded that it could not be assumed that ordering the return of the child would place her in an intolerable situation.
Decision of the Supreme Court, 1 December 1999, I CKN 992/99 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 701]
The Supreme Court specified that the frequently used argument of the child's potential separation from the taking parent, did not, in principle, justify the application of the exception. It held that where there were no objective obstacles to the return of a taking parent, then it could be assumed that the taking parent considered his own interest to be more important than those of the child.
The Court added that a taking parent's fear of being held criminally liable was not an objective obstacle to return, as the taking parent should have been aware of the consequences of his actions. The situation with regard to infants was however more complicated. The Court held that the special bond between mother and baby only made their separation possible in exceptional cases, and this was so even if there were no objective obstacles to the mother's return to the State of habitual residence. The Court held that where the mother of an infant refused to return, whatever the reason, then the return order should be refused on the basis of Article 13(1)(b). On the facts, return was ordered.
Solicitud conforme al Convenio de La Haya sobre los Aspectos Civiles de la Sustracción Internacional de Menores - Casación, IUE 9999-68/2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UY 1185]
European Court of Human Rights (ECrtHR)
There are decisions of the ECrtHR which have endorsed a strict approach with regard to the compatibility of Hague Convention exceptions and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Some of these cases have considered arguments relevant to the issue of grave risk of harm, including where an abductor has indicated an unwillingness to accompany the returning child, see:
Ilker Ensar Uyanık c. Turquie (Application No 60328/09) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1169]
In this case, the ECrtHR upheld a challenge by the left-behind father that the refusal of the Turkish courts to return his child led to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The ECrtHR stated that whilst very young age was a criterion to be taken into account to determine the child's interest in an abduction case, it could not be considered by itself a sufficient ground, in relation to the requirements of the Hague Convention, to justify dismissal of a return application.
Recourse has been had to expert evidence to assist in ascertaining the potential consequences of the child being separated from the taking parent
Maumousseau and Washington v. France (Application No 39388/05) of 6 December 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 942]
Lipowsky and McCormack v. Germany (Application No 26755/10) of 18 January 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1201]
MR and LR v. Estonia (Application No 13420/12) of 15 May 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1177]
However, it must equally be noted that since the Grand Chamber ruling in Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, there are examples of a less strict approach being followed. The latter ruling had emphasised the best interests of the individual abducted child in the context of an application for return and the ascertainment of whether the domestic courts had conducted an in-depth examination of the entire family situation as well as a balanced and reasonable assessment of the respective interests of each person, see:
Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland (Application No 41615/07), Grand Chamber, of 6 July 2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1323]
X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09) of 13 December 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1146]; and Grand Chamber ruling X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09), Grand Chamber [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1234]
B. v. Belgium (Application No 4320/11) of 10 July 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1171]
In this case, a majority found that the return of a child to the United States of America would lead to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The decision-making process of the Belgian Appellate Court as regards Article 13(1)(b) was held not to have met the procedural requirements inherent in Article 8 of the ECHR. The two dissenting judges noted, however, that the danger referred to in Article 13 should not consist only of the separation of the child from the taking parent.
(Author: Peter McEleavy, April 2013)
Courts have responded in different ways when faced with allegations that the left-behind parent has acted inappropriately or sexually abused the wrongfully removed or retained children. In the most straightforward cases the accusations may simply be dismissed as unfounded. Where this is not possible courts have been divided as to whether a detailed investigation should be undertaken in the State of refuge, or, whether the relevant assessment should be conducted in the State of habitual residence, with interim measures being taken to attempt to protect the child on his return.
- Accusations Dismissed:
Civ. Liège (réf) 14 mars 2002, Ministère public c/ A [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/BE 706]
The father claimed that the mother sought the return of the child to have her declared mentally incapable and to sell her organs. The Court held, however, that even if the father's accusations were firmly held, they were not backed up by any evidence.
Droit de la famille 2675, No 200-04-003138-979 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 666]
The Court held that if the mother had serious concerns with regard to her son, then she would not have left him in the care of the father on holiday after what she claimed there had been a serious incident.
J.M. c. H.A., Droit de la famille, No 500-04-046027-075 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 968]
The mother claimed that a grave risk arose because the father was a sexual predator.
The Court noted that such allegations had been rejected in foreign proceedings. It equally drew attention to the fact that Convention proceedings concerned the return of the child and not the issue of custody. The fears of the mother and of the maternal grandparents were deemed to be largely irrational. There was also no proof that the judicial authorities in the State of habitual residence were corrupt. The Court instead expressed concerns about the actions of members of the maternal family (who had abducted the child notwithstanding the existence of three court orders to the contrary) as well as the mental state of the mother, who had kept the child in a state of fear of the father.
CA Amiens, 4 mars 1998, No de RG 5704759 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 704]
The Court rejected the allegation of physical violence against the father; if there had been violence, it was not of the level required to activate Article 13(1)(b).
Wolfe v. Wolfe  NZFLR 277 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 303]
The Court rejected arguments by the mother that the father's alleged sexual practices would place the child at a grave risk of harm. The Court held that there was no evidence a return would expose the child to the level of harm contemplated under Article 13(1)(b).
Obergericht des Kantons Zürich (Appellate Court of the Canton Zurich), 28/01/1997, U/NL960145/II.ZK [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 426]
The mother argued that the father was a danger to the children because, inter alia, he had sexually abused the daughter. In rejecting this accusation, the Court noted that the mother had previously been willing to leave the children in the father's sole care whilst she went abroad.
- Return ordered with investigation to be carried out in the State of habitual residence:
United Kingdom - England and Wales
N. v. N. (Abduction: Article 13 Defence)  1 FLR 107 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 19]
The possible risk to the daughter needed to be investigated in the pending custody proceedings in Australia. In the interim, the child needed protection. However, this protection did not require the refusal of the application for her return. Such risk of physical harm as might exist was created by unsupervised contact to the father, not by return to Australia.
Re S. (Abduction: Return into Care)  1 FLR 843 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 361]
It was argued that the allegations of sexual abuse by the mother's cohabitee were of such a nature as to activate the Article 13(1)(b) exception. This was rejected by the Court. In doing this the Court noted that the Swedish authorities were aware of the case and had taken steps to ensure that the child would be protected upon her return: she would be placed in an analysis home with her mother. If the mother did not agree to this, the child would be placed in care. The Court also noted that the mother had now separated from her cohabitee.
Supreme Court of Finland 1996:151, S96/2489 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FI 360]
When considering whether the allegations of the father's sexual abuse of his daughter constituted a barrier to returning the children, the Court noted that one of the objectives of the Hague Child Abduction Convention was that the forum for the determination of custody issues was not to be changed at will and that the credibility of allegations as to the personal characteristics of the petitioner were most properly investigated in the spouses' common State of habitual residence. In addition, the Court noted that a grave risk of harm did not arise if the mother were to return with the children and saw to it that their living conditions were arranged in their best interests. Accordingly, the Court found that there was no barrier to the return of the children.
A.S. v. P.S. (Child Abduction)  2 IR 244 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IE 389]
The Irish Supreme Court accepted that there was prima facie evidence of sexual abuse by the father and that the children should not be returned into his care. However, it found that the trial judge had erred in concluding that this amounted to a grave risk of harm in returning the children to England per se. In the light of the undertakings given by the father, there would be no grave risk in returning the children to live in the former matrimonial home in the sole care of their mother.
- Investigation to be undertaken in the State of refuge:
China - (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
D. v. G.  1179 HKCU 1 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/HK 595]
The Court of Appeal criticised the fact that the return order had been made conditional on the acts of a third party (the Swiss Central Authority) over whom China's (Hong Kong SAR) Court had neither jurisdiction nor control. The Court ruled that unless and until the allegations could be discounted altogether or after investigation could be found to have no substance, it was almost inconceivable that the trial court's discretion could reasonably and responsibly be exercised to return the child to the environment in which the alleged abuse took place.
United States of America
Danaipour v. McLarey, 286 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2002) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 459]
The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that great care had to be exercised before returning a child where there existed credible evidence of the child having suffered sexual abuse. It further stated that a court should be particularly wary about using potentially unenforceable undertakings to try to protect a child in such situations.
Kufner v. Kufner, 519 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 2008) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 971]
The District Court had appointed an independent expert in paediatrics, child abuse, child sexual abuse and child pornography, to assess whether the photographs of the sons constituted child pornography and whether the behaviour problems suffered by the children were indications of sexual abuse. The expert reported that there was no evidence to suggest that the father was a paedophile, that he was sexually aroused by children, or that the pictures were pornographic. The expert approved of the German investigations and stated that they were accurate assessments and that their conclusions were consistent with their reported observations. The expert determined that the symptoms that the boys displayed were consistent with the stress in their lives caused by the acrimonious custody dispute and recommended that the boys not undergo further sexual abuse evaluation because it would increase their already-dangerous stress levels.
- Return Refused:
United Kingdom - Scotland
Q., Petitioner  SLT 243 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 341]
The Court held that there was a possibility that the allegations of abuse were true. It was also possible that the child, if returned, could be allowed into the unsupervised company of the alleged abuser. The Court equally noted that a court in another Hague Convention country would be able to provide adequate protection. Consequently it was possible for a child to be returned where an allegation of sexual abuse had been made. However, on the facts, the Court ruled that in light of what had happened in France during the course of the various legal proceedings, the courts there might not be able or willing to provide adequate protection for the children. Consequently, the risk amounted to a grave risk that the return of the girl would expose her to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place her in an intolerable situation.
United States of America
Danaipour v. McLarey, 386 F.3d 289 (1st Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 597]
Having found that sexual abuse had occurred, the Court of Appeals ruled that this rendered immaterial the father's arguments that the courts of Sweden could take ameliorative actions to prevent further harm once the children had been returned. The Court of Appeals held that in such circumstances, Article 13(1)(b) did not require separate consideration either of undertakings or of the steps which might be taken by the courts of the country of habitual residence.
(Author: Peter McEleavy, April 2013)
A uniform interpretation has not emerged with regard to the concept of settlement; in particular whether it should be construed literally or rather in accordance with the policy objectives of the Convention. In jurisdictions favouring the latter approach the burden of proof on the abducting parent is clearly greater and the exception is more difficult to establish.
Jurisdictions in which a heavy burden of proof has been attached to the establishment of settlement include:
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re N. (Minors) (Abduction)  1 FLR 413 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 106]
In this case it was held that settlement is more than mere adjustment to surroundings. It involves a physical element of relating to, being established in, a community and an environment. It also has an emotional constituent denoting security and stability.
Cannon v. Cannon  EWCA CIV 1330,  1 FLR 169 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 598]
For academic criticism of Re N. see:
Collins L. et al., Dicey, Morris & Collins on the Conflict of Laws, 14th Edition, Sweet & Maxwell, London, 2006, paragraph 19-121.
However, it may be noted that a more recent development in England has been the adoption of a child-centric assessment of settlement by the House of Lords in Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 55,  1 AC 1288, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 937]. This ruling may impact on the previous case law.
However there was no apparent weakening of the standard in the non-Convention case Re F. (Children) (Abduction: Removal Outside Jurisdiction)  EWCA Civ. 842,  2 F.L.R. 1649,[INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 982].
United Kingdom - Scotland
Soucie v. Soucie 1995 SC 134 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 107]
For Article 12(2) to be activated the interest of the child in not being uprooted must be so cogent that it outweighs the primary purpose of the Convention, namely the return of the child to the proper jurisdiction so that the child's future may be determined in the appropriate place.
P. v. S., 2002 FamLR 2 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 963]
A settled situation was one which could reasonably be relied upon to last as matters stood and did not contain indications that it was likely to change radically or to fall apart. There had therefore to be some projection into the future.
C. v. C.  CSOH 42, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 962]
United States of America
In re Interest of Zarate, No. 96 C 50394 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 23, 1996) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USf 134]
A literal interpretation of the concept of settlement has been favoured in:
Director-General, Department of Community Services v. M. and C. and the Child Representative (1998) FLC 92-829 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 291];
China - (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
A.C. v. P.C.  HKMP 1238 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/HK 825].
The impact of the divergent interpretations is arguably most marked where very young children are concerned.
It has been held that settlement is to be considered from the perspective of a young child in:
7Ob573/90 Oberster Gerichtshof, 17/05/1990 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AT 378];
Secretary, Attorney-General's Department v. T.S. (2001) FLC 93-063 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 823];
State Central Authority v. C.R  Fam CA 1050 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 824];
Family Application 000111/07 Ploni v. Almonit, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IL 938];
R 6136; M. Le Procureur Général contre M. H. K., [INCADAT cite: HC/E/MC 510];
Präsidium des Bezirksgerichts St. Gallen (District Court of St. Gallen) (Switzerland), decision of 8 September 1998, 4 PZ 98-0217/0532N, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CH 431].
A child-centric approach has also been adopted in several significant appellate decisions with regard to older children, with emphasis placed on the children's views.
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 55,  1 AC 1288, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 937];
CA Paris 27 Octobre 2005, 05/15032, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FR 814];
Droit de la Famille 2785, Cour d'appel de Montréal, 5 December 1997, No 500-09-005532-973 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 653].
In contrast, a more objective assessment was favoured in the United States decision:
David S. v. Zamira S., 151 Misc. 2d 630, 574 N.Y.S.2d 429 (Fam. Ct. 1991) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USs 208]
The children, aged 3 and 1 1/2, had not established significant ties to their community in Brooklyn; they were not involved in school, extra-curricular, community, religious or social activities which children of an older age would be.