Riigikohus - Tsiviilkolleegium
Superior Appellate Court
UNITED KINGDOM - ENGLAND AND WALES
28 September 2010
Habitual Residence - Art. 3 | Jurisdiction Issues - Art. 16 | Brussels IIa Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003)
The lower courts had noted that mother and child had spent only six weeks in Estonia before returning to the United Kingdom, where the mother had been resident for the previous ten years. The courts further noted the mother's submission that on return she was provided with accommodation and was in receipt of social benefits.
In finding that Estonia was not the child's permanent residence for the purposes of Article 8 of the Brussels IIa Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003), the lower courts found that: the future plans of the father and the child had no legal significance; neither the renovation of the apartment, the entry of mother and child in the Population Registry of Estonia nor the registration of the child on a waiting list for child care was indicative of a transfer of permanent residence; furthermore the mother's employment relations with a business in Estonia similarly carried no significance, as she could telework.
The Supreme Court noted first that the Estonian translation of Article 8 of the Council Regulation erroneously referred to "permanent residence" and not to "habitual residence". Habitual residence of a child carried an autonomous definition under European law.
Referring to Case C 523/07, A.  E.C.R. I-2805 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1000], the Court held that the habitual residence of a child had to be determined on the basis of all circumstances which allowed the identification of the country with which the child had the closest connections. Furthermore, the duration of a child's stay in a Member State could not be solely determinative.
The Court held that where a family was relocating it could not be excluded that the habitual residence of a child could be acquired immediately after the child entered the Member State in question. It was important to identify the Member State where a child was best integrated into the social and family environment.
The Supreme Court held that whilst the County Court and the Circuit Court had substantially correctly considered the duration of the child's stay, they had failed to consider all other circumstances including not identifying the conditions and reasons of the mother in coming to Estonia with the child, and the social and family relations connecting the child to Estonia and to the United Kingdom.
Given the child's young age and the time spent in Estonia, the importance of the duration of the stay was not to be overestimated and the other elements of the European Court's ruling in Case C 523/07, A.  E.C.R. I-2805 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1000] were to be afforded greater importance in the determination of the child's habitual residence.
The Supreme Court accepted that it was more difficult to identify the integration of a newborn or small child into the environment of a Member State, however, by considering the intentions of the parents and the measures taken towards those intentions and also the family relations of the child, it was possible to determine the Member State into the environment of which the child was integrated.
The Court held that Article 16 of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention did not prevent the Member State of the child's habitual residence from hearing a custody application at the same time as a return has been filed before the courts of another Member State, and where the latter petition has not yet been determined.
The Supreme Court held that the lower courts had failed to consider the application of Article 10 of the Brussels IIa Regulation which would serve to preserve the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were the child habitually resident there at the time of the removal.
Author of the summary: Peter McEleavy
The father subsequently withdrew his application from the Harju County Court and on 25 November 2010, the Family Division of the High Court dismissed the summary return petition, ruled that the child was habitually resident in England and Wales and put in place a framework for contact in the United Kingdom and potentially in Estonia.
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.
Where there is clear evidence of an intention to commence a new life in another State then the existing habitual residence will be lost and a new one acquired.
In common law jurisdictions it is accepted that acquisition may be able to occur within a short period of time, see:
DeHaan v. Gracia  AJ No.94 (QL),  ABQD 4, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 576];
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re J. (A Minor) (Abduction: Custody Rights)  2 AC 562 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 2];
Re F. (A Minor) (Child Abduction)  1 FLR 548, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 40].
In civil law jurisdictions it has been held that a new habitual residence may be acquired immediately, see:
Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung (Tribunal Fédéral, 2ème Chambre Civile) Décision du 15 novembre 2005, 5P.367/2005 /ast, [INCADAT cite : HC/E/CH 841].
Where parental agreement as regards relocation is conditional on a future event, should an existing habitual residence be lost immediately upon leaving that country?
The Full Court of the Family Court of Australia answered this question in the negative and further held that loss may not even follow from the fulfilment of the condition if the parent who aspires to relocate does not clearly commit to the relocation at that time, see:
Kilah & Director-General, Department of Community Services  FamCAFC 81, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 995].
However, this ruling was overturned on appeal by the High Court of Australia, which held that an existing habitual residence would be lost if the purpose had a sufficient degree of continuity to be described as settled. There did not need to be a settled intention to take up ‘long term' residence:
L.K. v. Director-General Department of Community Services  HCA 9, (2009) 253 ALR 202, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 1012].
Jurisdiction Issues under the Hague Convention (Art. 16)
Given the aim of the Convention to secure the prompt return of abducted children to their State of habitual residence to allow for substantive proceedings to be convened, it is essential that custody proceedings not be initiated in the State of refuge. To this end Article 16 provides that:
"After receiving notice of a wrongful removal or retention of a child in the sense of Article 3, the judicial or administrative authorities of the Contracting State to which the child has been removed or in which it has been retained shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody until it has been determined that the child is not to be returned under this Convention or unless an application under this Convention is not lodged within a reasonable time following receipt of the notice."
Contracting States which are also party to the 1996 Hague Convention are provided greater protection by virtue of Article 7 of that instrument.
Contracting States which are Member States of the European Union and to which the Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 (Brussels II a Regulation) applies are provided further protection still by virtue of Article 10 of that instrument.
The importance of Article 16 has been noted by the European Court of Human Rights:
Iosub Caras v. Romania, Application No. 7198/04, (2008) 47 E.H.R.R. 35, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 867];
Carlson v. Switzerland no. 49492/06, 8 November 2008, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 999].
When should Article 16 be applied?
The High Court in England & Wales has held that courts and lawyers must be pro-active where there is an indication that a wrongful removal or retention has occurred.
R. v. R. (Residence Order: Child Abduction)  Fam 209, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 120].
When a court becomes aware, expressly or by inference that there has been a wrongful removal or retention it receives notice of that wrongful removal or retention within the meaning of Article 16. Moreover, it is the duty of the court to consider taking steps to secure that the parent in that State is informed of his or her Convention rights.
Re H. (Abduction: Habitual Residence: Consent)  2 FLR 294, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 478]
Lawyers, even those acting for abducting parents, had a duty to draw the attention of the court to the Convention where this was relevant.
Scope and Duration of Article 16 Protection?
Article 16 does not prevent provisional and protective measures from being taken:
Cour de cassation 30/10/2008, CG c BS, N° de rôle: C.06.0619.F, [INCADAT cite : HC/E/BE 750].
However, in this case the provisional measures ultimately became final and the return was never enforced, due to a change in circumstances.
A return application must be made within a reasonable period of time:
Cass Civ 1ère 9 juillet 2008 (N° de pourvois K 06-22090 & M 06-22091), 9.7.2008, [INCADAT cite : HC/E/FR 749]
United Kingdom - England & Wales
R. v. R. (Residence Order: Child Abduction)  Fam 209, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 120].
A return order which has become final but has not yet been enforced is covered by Article 16:
Bundesgerichtshof, XII. Zivilsenat Decision of 16 August 2000 - XII ZB 210/99, BGHZ 145, 97 16 August 2000 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/DE 467].
Article 16 will no longer apply when a return order cannot be enforced:
5P.477/2000/ZBE/bnm, [INCADAT cite : HC/E/CH 785].
The application of the 1980 Hague Convention within the Member States of the European Union (Denmark excepted) has been amended following the entry into force of Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000, see:
Affaire C-195/08 PPU Rinau v. Rinau,  ECR I 5271  2 FLR 1495 [Référence INCADAT : HC/E/ 987];
Affaire C 403/09 PPU Detiček v. Sgueglia, [Référence INCADAT : HC/E/ 1327].
The Hague Convention remains the primary tool to combat child abductions within the European Union but its operation has been fine tuned.
An autonomous EU definition of ‘rights of custody' has been adopted: Article 2(9) of the Brussels II a Regulation, which is essentially the same as that found in Article 5 a) of the Hague Child Abduction Convention. There is equally an EU formula for determining the wrongfulness of a removal or retention: Article 2(11) of the Regulation. The latter embodies the key elements of Article 3 of the Convention, but adds an explanation as to the joint exercise of custody rights, an explanation which accords with international case law.
See: Case C-400/10 PPU J Mc.B. v. L.E, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 1104].
Of greater significance is Article 11 of the Brussels II a Regulation.
Article 11(2) of the Brussels II a Regulation requires that when applying Articles 12 and 13 of the 1980 Hague Convention that the child is given the opportunity to be heard during the proceedings, unless this appears inappropriate having regard to his age or degree of maturity.
This obligation has led to a realignment in judicial practice in England, see:
Re D. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 51,  1 A.C. 619 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 880] where Baroness Hale noted that the reform would lead to children being heard more frequently in Hague cases than had hitherto happened.
Re M. (A Child) (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return)  EWCA Civ 260,  2 FLR 72, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 901]
The Court of Appeal endorsed the suggestion by Baroness Hale that the requirement under the Brussels II a Regulation to ascertain the views of children of sufficient age of maturity was not restricted to intra-European Community cases of child abduction, but was a principle of universal application.
Article 11(3) of the Brussels II a Regulation requires Convention proceedings to be dealt with within 6 weeks.
Klentzeris v. Klentzeris  EWCA Civ 533,  2 FLR 996, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 931]
Thorpe LJ held that this extended to appeal hearings and as such recommended that applications for permission to appeal should be made directly to the trial judge and that the normal 21 day period for lodging a notice of appeal should be restricted.
Article 11(4) of the Brussels II a Regulation provides that the return of a child cannot be refused under Article 13(1) b) of the Hague Convention if it is established that adequate arrangements have been made to secure the protection of the child after his return.
Cases in which reliance has been placed on Article 11(4) of the Brussels II a Regulation to make a return order include:
CA Bordeaux, 19 janvier 2007, No 06/002739 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FR 947];
CA Paris 15 février 2007 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FR 979].
The relevant protection was found not to exist, leading to a non-return order being made, in:
CA Aix-en-Provence, 30 novembre 2006, N° RG 06/03661 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FR 717].
The most notable element of Article 11 is the new mechanism which is now applied where a non-return order is made on the basis of Article 13. This allows the authorities in the State of the child's habitual residence to rule on whether the child should be sent back notwithstanding the non-return order. If a subsequent return order is made under Article 11(7) of the Regulation, and is certified by the issuing judge, then it will be automatically enforceable in the State of refuge and all other EU-Member States.
Article 11(7) Brussels II a Regulation - Return Order Granted:
Re A. (Custody Decision after Maltese Non-return Order: Brussels II Revised)  EWHC 3397 (Fam.),  1 FLR 1923 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 883]
Article 11(7) Brussels II a Regulation - Return Order Refused:
Re A. H.A. v. M.B. (Brussels II Revised: Article 11(7) Application)  EWHC 2016 (Fam),  1 FLR 289, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 930].
The CJEU has ruled that a subsequent return order does not have to be a final order for custody:
Case C-211/10 PPU Povse v. Alpago, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 1328].
In this case it was further held that the enforcement of a return order cannot be refused as a result of a change of circumstances. Such a change must be raised before the competent court in the Member State of origin.
Furthermore abducting parents may not seek to subvert the deterrent effect of Council Regulation 2201/2003 in seeking to obtain provisional measures to prevent the enforcement of a custody order aimed at securing the return of an abducted child:
Case C 403/09 PPU Detiček v. Sgueglia, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 1327].
For academic commentary on the new EU regime see:
P. McEleavy ‘The New Child Abduction Regime in the European Community: Symbiotic Relationship or Forced Partnership?'  Journal of Private International Law 5 - 34.