Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in one of the rare cases involving the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction which reach the high court. At issue is how to define what a child’s habitual residence is, a definition sorely missing in these kinds of cases – especially when infants are involved.
From the Cathedral of Milan . . .
Monasky, a U.S. citizen, married Taglieri, an Italian citizen, in 2011. The couple moved to Milan, Italy, in 2013. The child at the center of this international child custody dispute, known as A.M.T., was born in Italy in February 2015.
Monasky testified that after they arrived in Milan, she was the victim of domestic violence, and although she was pregnant by then she did not move with Taglieri when he took a job a few hours away in Lugo. In 2015, Michelle Monasky left a domestic-violence safe house in Italy where she had been staying with her newborn daughter and traveled to her parents’ home in Ohio.
Domenico Taglieri, her husband, filed a lawsuit in Ohio, asking a federal court to order his daughter’s return to Italy. He relied on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In his case, the Hague Convention requires the Court to return the child, if wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence,” to be sent back.
But what’s the “habitual residence” of a child like Monasky and Taglieri’s daughter, who is too young to really know where she is? The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the couple’s case to decide that questions.
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.
The trial judge in the Taglieri 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; contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.
. . . to America’s Temple of Justice
Arguing on Monasky’s behalf before the U.S. Supreme Court, her lawyer Amir Tayrani observed that the Hague Convention was designed to protect children from wrongful removal from their habitual residences.
Tayrani faced a series of questions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether under his approach some infants might not have a habitual residence at all for purposes of the convention, because their parents had never agreed on where to raise their child. Tayrani allowed that such a scenario could occur but suggested that it would be relatively rare, because it would only happen during the “unusual case” in which a couple’s relationship broke down during the mother’s pregnancy or immediately after birth.
But Ginsburg pointed out that many relationships that result in cases being brought under the Hague Convention are “so acrimonious that the chances of agreement are slim to none” which would leave children without a habitual residence. Justice Samuel Alito also seemed skeptical. Under that position, he told Tayrani, “either parent could snatch her. Possession would be ten-tenths of the law?”
Justice Elena Kagan proposed a rule that if a baby has lived somewhere her whole life, courts would normally presume the baby’s habitual residence to be the country in which she lived. Such a rule would be an “administrable rule” that “provides a lot of guidance” to the courts, and it would also deter abductions.
Roberts posited that “habitual residence” is a “meaningless concept for” infants. After all, Roberts observed, eight-week-old infants “don’t have habits. Well,” Roberts joked, “other than one or two.”
The father’s attorney told the justices that virtually all of the factors weigh in favor of Italy’s being A.M.T.’s habitual residence. She was there, he stressed, with both parents, and there are no other facts that would lead to a different conclusion.
The Scotus Blog article is here.