The U.S. Supreme Court does not typically hear child custody cases, but just agreed to hear an international child abduction case. A baby brought here from Italy by her Mother after her marriage collapsed has to return the baby to Italy. Incredibly, the decision may rest on how smelly a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish is.

Child Custody

That’s Amore

The father, Taglieri is an Italian, and the Mother, Monasky, is an American. They met in Illinois. Taglieri, who was already an M.D., was studying for his Ph.D. and worked with Monasky, who already had a Ph.D.

They married in Illinois in 2011 and two years later, moved to Italy to pursue their careers in Milan, where they each found work. Their marriage had problems, including physical abuse.

In June 2014, Taglieri took a job at a hospital three hours from Milan. Monasky stayed in Milan, where she worked at a different hospital. Monasky had a difficult pregnancy, which, when combined with the long-distance separation, strained the relationship further. To make matters worse, she didn’t speak Italian or have a valid driver’s license, increasing her dependence.

During this time, the two argued but also jointly applied for Italian and American passports for their daughter. Two weeks later, Monasky left for the United States, taking their eight-week-old with her.

Taglieri filed an action in Italian court to terminate Monasky’s parental rights, which was granted. Then he filed a petition in Ohio seeking A.M.T.’s return under the Hague Convention.

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention.

The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children “to the State of their habitual residence” to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

When the order hits your eye like a dead fish…

The issue for the appellate court was how they should review the trial judge’s ruling that Italy is the habitual residence of the baby girl.

The trial judge in this case gave a lot of weight to the fact that the parents agreed to move to Italy for their careers and lived as a family before A.M.T.’s birth; they both secured full-time jobs in Italy, and the Mother pursued recognition of her academic credentials by Italian officials.

On the other hand, the mother argued she expressed a desire to divorce and return to the United States; she contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.

Faced with these facts the trial judge can rule in either direction, and after fairly considering all of the evidence, the trial judge found that Italy was A.M.T.’s habitual residence. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided:

We leave this work to the district court unless the fact findings “strike us as wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider how appellate courts review a trial judge’s ruling on habitual residence. Is it reviewed under de novo standard, under a deferential version of de novo review, or under clear-error review?

Another question being considered is whether a subjective agreement between an infant ‘s parents is necessary to establish habitual residence when the infant is too young to acclimate.

The opinion is here.