Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case concerning international child custody cases under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Known simply as the “Hague Abduction Convention,” member countries—including the United States—developed laws and procedures that are consistent with those of other states to standardize the legal process for resolving international custody disputes and matters involving the parental abduction of children across international borders.
Legal Standards Under the Hague Abduction Convention
The legal process for resolving international child custody claims under the Hague Abduction Convention involves the recognition of a foreign court’s custody orders and judgments by the domestic courts of member countries.
As a signatory to the convention, the United States enacted federal laws to facilitate the investigation and enforcement of foreign custody orders. Under federal law, parents who removed their children from the lawful custody of another parent as established by the findings and judgments of a foreign country's court would be required to return the child to their country of “habitual residence.”
Background of Monasky v. Taglieri
In the Monasky cases, the parties involved the parents of an infant child born in Italy. The child’s mother is a U.S. citizen while the child’s father is an Italian citizen. The parties met in the United States and got married, but decided to move to Italy because the father was having problems finding a job.
The couple became pregnant while in Italy, but the mother alleged that their relationship grew tumultuous and that the father started to physically assault and abuse her. The mother eventually gave birth to a baby girl and left Italy to the United States.
In the mother’s absence, father obtained an Italian court order terminating the mother’s parental rights and entitling him to custody over the couple’s 3-month old daughter.
Issues in the Monasky Case
The father sought the return of his daughter in the U.S. under the Hague Abduction Convention, arguing that Italy’s courts had jurisdiction regarding child custody matters as Italy was the child’s country of habitual residence.
The mother argued that their daughter was too young to have established a country of habitual residence for purposes of The Hague Abduction Convention. However, a U.S. court held that the question of a child’s habitual residence can also be determined after considering the parents’ shared intent as to what country should serve as the child’s home.
The lower courts found that the child’s country of habitual residence was Italy after considering evidence suggesting that both parents had shared parental intent to make Italy their child’s home. The mother argued that the issue of shared parental intent when determining a child’s habitual residence required an actual agreement between the parties.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the father’s favor, holding that a child’s place of habitual residence could be determined based on evidence indicate the shared parental intent of the parties, without regard to an actual agreement between them.
The Court held that the language of the Hague Abduction Convention and valid legal precedent did not define the term “habitual residence” but recognizes the importance of shared parental intent in cases where the child is too young to have established a place of habitual residence. The Court further reasoned that imposing a requirement for an actual agreement between parents would interfere with the law’s purpose of resolving international child custody disputes by allowing parents to hold a custody case hostage by refusing to agree with the other parent about the child’s habitual residence.
The Court noted that issues regarding international child custody were guided by principles that generally apply to any other custody case—decisions about the child’s custody must comport with the child’s best interests. However, courts did not find sufficient evidence suggesting that the return of the child to Italy would risk the child’s welfare and their best interests. Although the mother claimed that the father abused her, there was no adequate evidence suggesting that the father abused their daughter or was otherwise a danger to the child.
Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich for Legal Counsel
A family law case rarely finds its way to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, but when it does, our legal team at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich is monitoring the case to understand the outcome and the possible effect it might have on your case.