One year ago was the last time I stepped into an actual courtroom for a live trial dealing with child custody and the Hague Convention. It was also a year ago that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monasky v. Taglieri. A lot has happened to the world in one long year.
My client and the Mother are dual citizens of Mexico and Cuba, and met in Cancun, Mexico. They are both professional musicians. Together they have a daughter who was five years old.
During the early years of their relationship, they all lived together in an apartment in Mexico and traveled to the United States and Cuba. When they separated, the Father moved to an apartment nearby, and he and his daughter would timeshare, he paid for her piano lessons, her private school tuition, and even the Mother’s rent.
On July 12, 2019, at approximately 11:30 a.m., the Mother called the Father that she had taken their daughter to an undisclosed location.
He suspected she took her to Florida, and even had a possible address for the Mother here. Unbeknownst to him, the Mother actually took their daughter to a small, west Texas town.
The same day, the Father went to the Cancun Police and filed a missing child report. A few days later, he filed a Hague application for the child’s return. He hired me to file a case in Miami federal court, which was transferred to a federal court in Texas when the child was discovered there.
Habitual Residence and the Hague Convention
While the abduction was going on, and a few days before our Texas trial, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a major Hague Child abduction case involving the habitual residence of a child.
The Florida Bar Journal recently published an article I wrote during the quarantine about the recent U.S. Supreme Court case. In Monasky v. Taglieri, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the determination of a child’s “habitual residence” for purposes of the Hague Convention depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis and that a district court’s habitual-residence determination should be reviewed for clear error.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides that a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” must be returned to that country, which then has primary jurisdiction over any resulting custody proceedings.
A removal is “wrongful” if it is done in violation of the custody laws of the country of the child’s habitual residence. The Convention instructs that signatory states should “use the most expeditious proceedings available” to return the child to his or her habitual residence.
In Monasky, an American brought her infant daughter to Ohio from Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, became physically abusive. Taglieri petitioned for his daughter’s return under the Hague Convention, arguing that Italy was the daughter’s “habitual residence.”
The federal court agreed and found the parents had exhibited a “shared intention” to raise their daughter in Italy. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed with dissents. Monasky then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that establishment of a child’s habitual residence requires actual agreement between the parents.
The Supreme Court noted that the Hague Convention does not define “habitual residence.” Relying on the treaty and decisions from the countries who are signatories, the high court concluded habitual residence it is a “fact-driven inquiry into the particular circumstances of the case.”
The Supreme Court also noted that Monasky’s ‘actual agreement’ requirement would leave many children without a habitual residence, and outside the Convention’s domain and the Hague Convention always allows a court concerned about domestic violence to not order a child’s return if “there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”
Texas Hold ‘Em?
One of the issues which had to be resolved in our trial was the habitual residence of the child, and whether the parents shared an intent to abandon it. During our trial in Texas, the U.S. District Court found the parents did not share an intent to change the child’s habitual residence, among other defenses, and ordered the child returned to the Father and to her home in Mexico.
Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s, brand new decision, the federal court found the daughter’s habitual residence is Mexico, and that she was wrongfully removed to the United States in violation of the Hague Convention.
At the same time the Coronavirus was raging across the world, the U.S. government just ordered the border with Canada closed, courts were closing around the country, and there was a real concern we wouldn’t be able to return to Mexico.
But we faced another, potentially bigger problem. How do you enforce a federal court order to return a child to Mexico when the entire world, including borders and flights home were slamming shut?
The alternative to us moving immediately to secure the child’s return to Mexico would be to ‘hold em’ in Texas. Acting quickly, the father and daughter made it safely home to the habitual residence of Mexico.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision is here.