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Case Name

M v. M [2012] NZFLR 429

INCADAT reference

HC/E/NZ 1229





High Court, Dunedin


Appellate Court

Judge Miller

States involved

Requesting State


Requested State




2 May 2012




Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b) | Objections of the Child to a Return - Art. 13(2) | Issues Relating to Return | Procedural Matters


Appeal dismissed, return ordered

HC article(s) Considered

13(1)(b) 13(2)

HC article(s) Relied Upon

13(1)(b) 13(2)

Other provisions


Authorities | Cases referred to
Coates v Bowden (2007) 26 FRNZ 210 (HC); KMH v. Chief Executive of the Department of Courts [2001] NZFLR 825 (HC); KS v. LS [2003] 3 NZLR 837 (HC); Secretary for Justice v. HJ [2006] NZSC 97, [2007] 2 NZLR 289, [2007] NZFLR 195; Smith v. Adam [2007] NZFLR 447 (CA); White v. Northumberland [2006] NZFLR 1105, (2006) 26 FRNZ 189 (CA).

INCADAT comment

Exceptions to Return

Grave Risk of Harm
Primary Carer Abductions
Allegations of Inappropriate Behaviour / Sexual Abuse
Child's Objection
Exercise of Discretion

Implementation & Application Issues

Measures to Facilitate the Return of Children
Judicial Cooperation & Communication


Summary available in EN


The proceedings related to a boy born in March 2001 to parents both of whom were citizens of the United States of America, though the mother was originally Russian. The parents had married in 2000. In 2005, the father adopted a daughter the mother had from a previous relationship.

In March 2008, the parents separated and the father was awarded temporary custody of both children. In September 2009, the father was awarded legal custody and the mother had care fortnightly and on other occasions. Neither parent was to move more than 60 miles from the other without prior notice.

In April 2010, the mother was granted increased time with the children. In June 2010, the father was refused permission to take his son to live in Scotland for a year. In October 2010, the father began to withhold the mother's parenting time.

The boy claimed that the mother hit him; the allegations were recorded by the Police and investigated by social services. The mother applied for orders for the enforcement of her parenting time. These were granted. On 10 December 2010, the father unilaterally took his son to New Zealand.

On 26 February 2011, the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon awarded the mother temporary custody of both children and denied the father parenting time until further order. A warrant was subsequently issued for the father's arrest, he having been charged with the felony of custodial interference. A substantial bail bond was set.

In June 2011, the father's adopted daughter (then 17 years old) - who had been in India - joined the father and her half brother in New Zealand. The mother filed a return application in August 2011. On 1 November, the Family Court ordered the return of the child. The father appealed.


Appeal dismissed and return ordered; the removal was wrongful and whilst the child had valid objections, the Court exercised its discretion to make a return order.


Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b)

Before the Family Court it was argued that the child would suffer a grave risk of harm should he be returned because he had suffered abuse by the mother. The Court noted that whilst allegations had been investigated by Oregon child protection services and the police, no further action had been taken, and the father had passed up an opportunity to have a judicial ruling on the matter.

The Family Court held that it was not persuaded the mother had abused her son, or that the American authorities were incapable of protecting the child.The Family Court further rejected a claim that the child would be placed in an intolerable situation because he would be placed in the mother's care since the father would be arrested upon return.

The Court held that the father could not create an intolerable situation and then seek to rely upon it. Article 13(1)(b) was not the subject of the father's appeal.

Objections of the Child to a Return - Art. 13(2)

The Family Court found that the child objected to returning to the United States of America, but held that his objection to returning should be given "little weight" or no "significant" weight.

The High Court noted that there was a four-step test were a child's objections were at issue: does the child object to return; if so, has the child attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to give weight to his view; if so, what weight should be given to that view; and how should the residual discretion be exercised?

The High Court accepted that it should consider not only developmental level, maturity and capacity for reason, but also the strength of the objection and the actual reasons given by the child. The High Court, in contrast to the Family Court, found the child's reasons for not wanting to return to be substantive and that substantial weight should be attached to them.

Central to this finding were the child's statements about abuse by the mother. The Court noted however that that the abuse had not been proved and that the New Zealand courts were not in a position to decide whether it had happened - mother and witnesses not being in the jurisdiction, and Convention proceedings being summary in nature.

In the exercise of its discretion, the High Court noted that whilst the child's views merited substantial weight, his strong resistance to returning to Oregon was based primarily on his view of his mother. The High Court held that had the Circuit Court record established abuse, then the child's views would have tipped the balance in favour of remaining in New Zealand.

However, the grave risk defence had failed and had not been pursued on appeal. The High Court noted that it must also be accepted that the United States of America authorities would be able to protect the child and that it was in principle in his interests to have a relationship with the mother. Finally, the Court added that this was an egregious case of wrongful removal.

Issues Relating to Return

The Court noted that the father had been held in contempt of the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon and so were he to return to the United States of America, he would be arrested and held in custody pending a bail application. Attempts were made to negotiate the return of the child, but these failed due to a lack of agreement by the parties.

Procedural Matters

Judicial Communication:
Judicial Communication between the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon and the New Zealand Family Court was initiated after the latter made an order prohibiting the removal of the child from the jurisdiction (made prior to the return application being filed).

The Family Court subsequently communicated an offer by the father to return, reasoning that the father's fate on return to the United States of America was relevant to the exercise of its discretion. The Circuit Court responded that judicial comity ought to have led the Family Court to order the child's return.

Author of the summary: Peter McEleavy

INCADAT comment

Primary Carer Abductions

The issue of how to respond when a taking parent who is a primary carer threatens not to accompany a child back to the State of habitual residence if a return order is made, is a controversial one.

There are examples from many Contracting States where courts have taken a very strict approach so that, other than in exceptional situations, the Article 13(1)(b) exception has not been upheld where the non-return argument has been raised, see:

4Ob1523/96, Oberster Gerichtshof [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AT 561]

M.G. v. R.F., 2002 R.J.Q. 2132 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 762]

N.P. v. A.B.P., 1999 R.D.F. 38 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 764]

In this case, a non-return order was made since the facts were exceptional. There had been a genuine threat to the mother, which had put her quite obviously and rightfully in fear for her safety if she returned to Israel. The mother was taken to Israel on false pretences, sold to the Russian Mafia and re-sold to the father who forced her into prostitution. She was locked in, beaten by the father, raped and threatened. The mother was genuinely in a state of fear and could not be expected to return to Israel. It would be wholly inappropriate to send the child back without his mother to a father who had been buying and selling women and running a prostitution business.

United Kingdom - England and Wales
C. v. C. (Minor: Abduction: Rights of Custody Abroad) [1989] 1 WLR 654 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 34]

Re C. (Abduction: Grave Risk of Psychological Harm) [1999] 1 FLR 1145 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 269]

However, in a more recent English Court of Appeal judgment, the C. v. C. approach has been refined:

Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Grave Risk of Harm) [2002] 3 FCR 43, [2002] EWCA Civ 908 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 469]

In this case, it was ruled that a mother's refusal to return was capable of amounting to a defence because the refusal was not an act of unreasonableness, but came about as a result of an illness she was suffering from. It may be noted, however, that a return order was nevertheless still made. In this context reference may also be made to the decisions of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Re E. (Children) (Abduction: Custody Appeal) [2011] UKSC 27, [2012] 1 A.C. 144 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1068] and Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2012] UKSC 10, [2012] 2 A.C. 257 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1147], in which it was accepted that the anxieties of a respondent mother about return, which were not based upon objective risk to her but nevertheless were of such intensity as to be likely, in the event of a return, to destabilise her parenting of the child to the point at which the child's situation would become intolerable, could in principle meet the threshold of the Article 13(1)(b) exception.

Oberlandesgericht Dresden, 10 UF 753/01, 21 January 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 486]

Oberlandesgericht Köln, 21 UF 70/01, 12 April 2001 [INCADAT: HC/E/DE 491]

Previously a much more liberal interpretation had been adopted:
Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart, 17 UF 260/98, 25 November 1998 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 323]

5P_71/2003/min, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 27 mars 2003 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 788]

5P_65/2002/bnm, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 11 avril 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 789]

5P_367/2005/ast, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 15 novembre 2005 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 841]

5A_285/2007/frs, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 16 août 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 955]

5A_479/2012, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 13 juillet 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 1179]

New Zealand
K.S. v. L.S. [2003] 3 NZLR 837 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 770]

United Kingdom - Scotland
McCarthy v. McCarthy [1994] SLT 743 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 26]

United States of America
Panazatou v. Pantazatos, No. FA 96071351S (Conn. Super. Ct., 1997) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USs 97]

In other Contracting States, the approach taken with regard to non-return arguments has varied:

In Australia, early Convention case law exhibited a very strict approach adopted with regard to non-return arguments, see:

Director-General Department of Families, Youth and Community Care and Hobbs, 24 September 1999, Family Court of Australia (Brisbane) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 294]

Director General of the Department of Family and Community Services v. Davis (1990) FLC 92-182 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 293]
In State Central Authority v. Ardito, 20 October 1997 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 283], the Family Court of Australia at Melbourne did find the grave risk of harm exception to be established where the mother would not return, but in this case the mother had been denied entry into the United States of America, the child's State of habitual residence.

Following the judgment of the High Court of Australia (the highest court in the Australian judicial system) in the joint appeals DP v. Commonwealth Central Authority; J.L.M. v. Director-General, NSW Department of Community Services [2001] HCA 39, (2001) 180 ALR 402 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 346, 347], greater attention has been focused on the post-return situation facing abducted children.

In the context of a primary-carer taking parent refusing to return to the child's State of habitual residence see: Director General, Department of Families v. RSP. [2003] FamCA 623 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 544]. 

In French case law, a permissive approach to Article 13(1)(b) has been replaced with a much more restrictive interpretation. For examples of the initial approach, see:

Cass. Civ 1ère 12. 7. 1994, S. c. S.. See Rev. Crit. 84 (1995), p. 96 note H. Muir Watt; JCP 1996 IV 64 note Bosse-Platière, Defrénois 1995, art. 36024, note J. Massip [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 103]

Cass. Civ 1ère, 22 juin 1999, No de RG 98-17902 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 498]

And for examples of the stricter interpretation, see:

Cass Civ 1ère, 25 janvier 2005, No de RG 02-17411 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 708]

CA Agen, 1 décembre 2011, No de RG 11/01437 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/FR 1172]

In Israeli case law there are contrasting examples of the judicial response to non-return arguments:
Civil Appeal 4391/96 Ro v. Ro [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 832]

in contrast with:

Family Appeal 621/04 D.Y v. D.R [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 833]

Decision of the Supreme Court, 7 October 1998, I CKN 745/98 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 700]

The Supreme Court noted that it would not be in the child's best interests if she were deprived of her mother's care, were the latter to choose to remain in Poland. However, it equally affirmed that if the child were to stay in Poland it would not be in her interests to be deprived of the care of her father. For these reasons, the Court concluded that it could not be assumed that ordering the return of the child would place her in an intolerable situation.

Decision of the Supreme Court, 1 December 1999, I CKN 992/99 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 701]

The Supreme Court specified that the frequently used argument of the child's potential separation from the taking parent, did not, in principle, justify the application of the exception. It held that where there were no objective obstacles to the return of a taking parent, then it could be assumed that the taking parent considered his own interest to be more important than those of the child.

The Court added that a taking parent's fear of being held criminally liable was not an objective obstacle to return, as the taking parent should have been aware of the consequences of his actions. The situation with regard to infants was however more complicated. The Court held that the special bond between mother and baby only made their separation possible in exceptional cases, and this was so even if there were no objective obstacles to the mother's return to the State of habitual residence. The Court held that where the mother of an infant refused to return, whatever the reason, then the return order should be refused on the basis of Article 13(1)(b). On the facts, return was ordered.

Solicitud conforme al Convenio de La Haya sobre los Aspectos Civiles de la Sustracción Internacional de Menores - Casación, IUE 9999-68/2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UY 1185]

European Court of Human Rights (ECrtHR)
There are decisions of the ECrtHR which have endorsed a strict approach with regard to the compatibility of Hague Convention exceptions and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Some of these cases have considered arguments relevant to the issue of grave risk of harm, including where an abductor has indicated an unwillingness to accompany the returning child, see:

Ilker Ensar Uyanık c. Turquie (Application No 60328/09) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1169]

In this case, the ECrtHR upheld a challenge by the left-behind father that the refusal of the Turkish courts to return his child led to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The ECrtHR stated that whilst very young age was a criterion to be taken into account to determine the child's interest in an abduction case, it could not be considered by itself a sufficient ground, in relation to the requirements of the Hague Convention, to justify dismissal of a return application.

Recourse has been had to expert evidence to assist in ascertaining the potential consequences of the child being separated from the taking parent

Maumousseau and Washington v. France (Application No 39388/05) of 6 December 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 942]

Lipowsky and McCormack v. Germany (Application No 26755/10) of 18 January 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1201]

MR and LR v. Estonia (Application No 13420/12) of 15 May 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1177]

However, it must equally be noted that since the Grand Chamber ruling in Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, there are examples of a less strict approach being followed. The latter ruling had emphasised the best interests of the individual abducted child in the context of an application for return and the ascertainment of whether the domestic courts had conducted an in-depth examination of the entire family situation as well as a balanced and reasonable assessment of the respective interests of each person, see:

Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland (Application No 41615/07), Grand Chamber, of 6 July 2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1323]

X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09) of 13 December 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1146]; and Grand Chamber ruling X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09), Grand Chamber [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1234]

B. v. Belgium (Application No 4320/11) of 10 July 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1171]

In this case, a majority found that the return of a child to the United States of America would lead to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The decision-making process of the Belgian Appellate Court as regards Article 13(1)(b) was held not to have met the procedural requirements inherent in Article 8 of the ECHR. The two dissenting judges noted, however, that the danger referred to in Article 13 should not consist only of the separation of the child from the taking parent.

(Author: Peter McEleavy, April 2013)

Allegations of Inappropriate Behaviour / Sexual Abuse

Courts have responded in different ways when faced with allegations that the left-behind parent has acted inappropriately or sexually abused the wrongfully removed or retained children. In the most straightforward cases the accusations may simply be dismissed as unfounded. Where this is not possible courts have been divided as to whether a detailed investigation should be undertaken in the State of refuge, or, whether the relevant assessment should be conducted in the State of habitual residence, with interim measures being taken to attempt to protect the child on his return.

- Accusations Dismissed:


Civ. Liège (réf) 14 mars 2002, Ministère public c/ A [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/BE 706]

The father claimed that the mother sought the return of the child to have her declared mentally incapable and to sell her organs. The Court held, however, that even if the father's accusations were firmly held, they were not backed up by any evidence.
Canada (Québec)
Droit de la famille 2675, No 200-04-003138-979 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 666]
The Court held that if the mother had serious concerns with regard to her son, then she would not have left him in the care of the father on holiday after what she claimed there had been a serious incident.
J.M. c. H.A., Droit de la famille, No 500-04-046027-075 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 968]

The mother claimed that a grave risk arose because the father was a sexual predator.
The Court noted that such allegations had been rejected in foreign proceedings. It equally drew attention to the fact that Convention proceedings concerned the return of the child and not the issue of custody. The fears of the mother and of the maternal grandparents were deemed to be largely irrational. There was also no proof that the judicial authorities in the State of habitual residence were corrupt. The Court instead expressed concerns about the actions of members of the maternal family (who had abducted the child notwithstanding the existence of three court orders to the contrary) as well as the mental state of the mother, who had kept the child in a state of fear of the father.

CA Amiens, 4 mars 1998, No de RG 5704759 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 704]

The Court rejected the allegation of physical violence against the father; if there had been violence, it was not of the level required to activate Article 13(1)(b).

New Zealand
Wolfe v. Wolfe [1993] NZFLR 277 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 303]

The Court rejected arguments by the mother that the father's alleged sexual practices would place the child at a grave risk of harm. The Court held that there was no evidence a return would expose the child to the level of harm contemplated under Article 13(1)(b).

Obergericht des Kantons Zürich (Appellate Court of the Canton Zurich), 28/01/1997, U/NL960145/II.ZK [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 426]

The mother argued that the father was a danger to the children because, inter alia, he had sexually abused the daughter. In rejecting this accusation, the Court noted that the mother had previously been willing to leave the children in the father's sole care whilst she went abroad.

- Return ordered with investigation to be carried out in the State of habitual residence:

United Kingdom - England and Wales

N. v. N. (Abduction: Article 13 Defence) [1995] 1 FLR 107 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 19]

The possible risk to the daughter needed to be investigated in the pending custody proceedings in Australia. In the interim, the child needed protection. However, this protection did not require the refusal of the application for her return. Such risk of physical harm as might exist was created by unsupervised contact to the father, not by return to Australia.

Re S. (Abduction: Return into Care) [1999] 1 FLR 843 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 361]

It was argued that the allegations of sexual abuse by the mother's cohabitee were of such a nature as to activate the Article 13(1)(b) exception. This was rejected by the Court. In doing this the Court noted that the Swedish authorities were aware of the case and had taken steps to ensure that the child would be protected upon her return: she would be placed in an analysis home with her mother. If the mother did not agree to this, the child would be placed in care. The Court also noted that the mother had now separated from her cohabitee.

Supreme Court of Finland 1996:151, S96/2489 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FI 360]

When considering whether the allegations of the father's sexual abuse of his daughter constituted a barrier to returning the children, the Court noted that one of the objectives of the Hague Child Abduction Convention was that the forum for the determination of custody issues was not to be changed at will and that the credibility of allegations as to the personal characteristics of the petitioner were most properly investigated in the spouses' common State of habitual residence. In addition, the Court noted that a grave risk of harm did not arise if the mother were to return with the children and saw to it that their living conditions were arranged in their best interests. Accordingly, the Court found that there was no barrier to the return of the children.

A.S. v. P.S. (Child Abduction) [1998] 2 IR 244 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IE 389]

The Irish Supreme Court accepted that there was prima facie evidence of sexual abuse by the father and that the children should not be returned into his care. However, it found that the trial judge had erred in concluding that this amounted to a grave risk of harm in returning the children to England per se. In the light of the undertakings given by the father, there would be no grave risk in returning the children to live in the former matrimonial home in the sole care of their mother.

- Investigation to be undertaken in the State of refuge:

China - (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
D. v. G. [2001] 1179 HKCU 1 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/HK 595]

The Court of Appeal criticised the fact that the return order had been made conditional on the acts of a third party (the Swiss Central Authority) over whom China's (Hong Kong SAR) Court had neither jurisdiction nor control. The Court ruled that unless and until the allegations could be discounted altogether or after investigation could be found to have no substance, it was almost inconceivable that the trial court's discretion could reasonably and responsibly be exercised to return the child to the environment in which the alleged abuse took place.

United States of America
Danaipour v. McLarey, 286 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2002) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 459]

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that great care had to be exercised before returning a child where there existed credible evidence of the child having suffered sexual abuse. It further stated that a court should be particularly wary about using potentially unenforceable undertakings to try to protect a child in such situations.

Kufner v. Kufner, 519 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 2008) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 971]

The District Court had appointed an independent expert in paediatrics, child abuse, child sexual abuse and child pornography, to assess whether the photographs of the sons constituted child pornography and whether the behaviour problems suffered by the children were indications of sexual abuse. The expert reported that there was no evidence to suggest that the father was a paedophile, that he was sexually aroused by children, or that the pictures were pornographic. The expert approved of the German investigations and stated that they were accurate assessments and that their conclusions were consistent with their reported observations. The expert determined that the symptoms that the boys displayed were consistent with the stress in their lives caused by the acrimonious custody dispute and recommended that the boys not undergo further sexual abuse evaluation because it would increase their already-dangerous stress levels.

- Return Refused:

United Kingdom - Scotland

Q., Petitioner [2001] SLT 243 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 341]

The Court held that there was a possibility that the allegations of abuse were true. It was also possible that the child, if returned, could be allowed into the unsupervised company of the alleged abuser. The Court equally noted that a court in another Hague Convention country would be able to provide adequate protection. Consequently it was possible for a child to be returned where an allegation of sexual abuse had been made. However, on the facts, the Court ruled that in light of what had happened in France during the course of the various legal proceedings, the courts there might not be able or willing to provide adequate protection for the children. Consequently, the risk amounted to a grave risk that the return of the girl would expose her to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place her in an intolerable situation.

United States of America
Danaipour v. McLarey, 386 F.3d 289 (1st Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 597]

Having found that sexual abuse had occurred, the Court of Appeals ruled that this rendered immaterial the father's arguments that the courts of Sweden could take ameliorative actions to prevent further harm once the children had been returned. The Court of Appeals held that in such circumstances, Article 13(1)(b) did not require separate consideration either of undertakings or of the steps which might be taken by the courts of the country of habitual residence.

(Author: Peter McEleavy, April 2013)

Exercise of Discretion

Where it is established that a child objects to a return and he is of sufficient age and maturity at which it is appropriate to take his views into account, then the Court seised of the case will have a discretion whether or not to make a return order.

Different approaches have been espoused as to the manner in which this discretion should be exercised and the relevant factors that should be taken into consideration.

Richards & Director-General, Department of Child Safety [2007] FamCA 65 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 904]

The appellate court found that the trial judge had erred in ruling that there had to be 'clear and compelling' reasons to frustrate the objectives of the Convention. The Court recalled that there were permitted exceptions to a mandatory return and where established these exceptions gave rise to a discretion. The relevant factors in the exercise of that discretion would vary according to each case, but would include giving significant weight to the objectives of the Convention in appropriate cases.

United Kingdom - England & Wales
The exercise of the discretion has caused difficulty for the Court of Appeal, in particular the factors to be considered and the weight to be accorded to them.

In the first key case: 

Re S. (A Minor) (Abduction: Custody Rights) [1993] Fam 242 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 87]

The Court of Appeal held that a court's discretion to refuse the immediate return of a child must be exercised with regard to the overall approach of the Convention, i.e. a child's best interests are furthered by a prompt return, unless there are exceptional circumstances for ordering otherwise.

In Re R. (Child Abduction: Acquiescence) [1995] 1 FLR 716 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 60] contrasting views were put forward by two members of the panel.

Balcombe L.J., who was content for there to be a relatively flexible approach to the gateway findings of age and objection, held that the weight to be given to objections would vary with the age of the child, but the policy of the Convention would always be a very weighty factor.

Millet L.J., who advocated a stricter interpretation of the gateway filters, held that if it was appropriate to consider the views of a child then those views should prevail unless there were countervailing factors, which would include the policy of the Convention.

The third member of the panel gave his support to the interpretation of Balcombe L.J.

In Re T. (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return) [2000] 2 FCR 159 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 270] Ward L.J. took up the interpretation of Millett L.J.

The reasoning of Re. T. was implicitly accepted by a differently constituted Court of Appeal in:

Re J. (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return) [2004] EWCA CIV 428, [2004] 2 FLR 64 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 579].

However, it was rejected in Zaffino v. Zaffino (Abduction: Children's Views) [2005] EWCA Civ 1012; [2006] 1 FLR 410 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 813].

The correct approach to the exercise of judicial discretion in England is now clearly that advanced by Balcombe L.J.

In Zaffino v. Zaffino the Court also held that regard could be paid to welfare considerations in the exercise of the discretion.  In that case, welfare considerations militated in favour of a return.

In Vigreux v. Michel [2006] EWCA Civ 630, [2006] 2 FLR 1180 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 829] the Court of Appeal considered how discretion should be exercised in a case governed by the Brussels II a Regulation.  It held that the aims and policy of the Regulation had to be considered in addition to the policy of the Convention.

In Re M. (A Child) (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return) [2007] EWCA Civ 260, [2007] 2 FLR 72 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 901] the Court gave a general consideration to welfare considerations in deciding not to order the return of the 8 year old girl concerned.

The Court also appeared to accept an obiter comment raised in Vigreux v. Michel that there had to be an ‘exceptional' dimension to a case before a Court might consider exercising its discretion against a return order.

Exceptionality was raised in Nyachowe v. Fielder [2007] EWCA Civ 1129, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 964].  There a return order was made notwithstanding the strong objections of an independent 12 year old.  Particular emphasis was placed on the fact that the girl had come for a 2 week vacation.

In Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] UKHL 55, [2008] 1 AC 1288  [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 937] the House of Lords affirmed that it was wrong to import any test of exceptionality into the exercise of discretion under the Hague Convention. The circumstances in which a return may be refused were themselves exceptions to the general rule. That in itself was sufficient exceptionality. It was neither necessary nor desirable to import an additional gloss into the Convention.

Baroness Hale continued that where a discretion arose from the terms of the Convention itself, the discretion was at large.  In Article 13(2) cases the court would have to consider the nature and strength of the child's objections, the extent to which they were authentically the child's own or the product of the influence of the abducting parent, the extent to which they coincided or were at odds with other considerations which were relevant to the child's welfare, as well as general Convention considerations. The older the child, the greater the weight that objections would likely carry.

New Zealand
The Balcombe / Millett interpretations gave rise to contrasting High Court judgments. The Court of Appeal however voiced its preference for the Balcombe ‘shades of grey' approach in:

White v. Northumberland [2006] NZFLR 1105 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 902].

United Kingdom - Scotland
P. v. S., 2002 FamLR 2 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 963]

When exercising his discretion to make a return order, the trial judge noted that a return order should not be refused unless there were sound reasons for not giving effect to the objects of the Convention.  This was upheld on appeal.  The Inner House of the Court of Session further held that the existence of the Article 13 exceptions did not negate or eliminate the general policy of the Convention that wrongfully removed children should be returned.

Singh v. Singh 1998 SC 68 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 197]

The Court held that the welfare of the child was a general factor which should be taken into account in the exercise of discretion. A court should not limit itself to a consideration of the child's objection and the reasons for it. Nevertheless, the court held that a rule could not be laid down as to whether a child's welfare should be considered broadly or in detail; this was a matter within the discretion of the court concerned.

In W. v. W. 2004 S.C. 63 IH (1 Div) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 805] the Inner House held that a balancing exercise had to be carried out, and one of the factors in favour of return was the spirit and purpose of the Convention to allow the court of habitual residence to resolve the custody dispute.

United States of America
De Silva v. Pitts, 481 F.3d 1279, (10th Cir. 2007), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USf 903].

In upholding the views of a 14 year old boy the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit paid regard to his best interests but not to the policy of the Convention.

An appellate court limited the weight to be placed on the objections of the children on the basis that before being interviewed they had had no contact with the applicant parent and had spent a long period of time with the abducting parent. Moreover the allegations of the children had already been considered by the authorities in the children's State of habitual residence:

CA Bordeaux, 19 janvier 2007, No 06/002739 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FR 947].

Judicial Cooperation & Communication

The Fourth Special Commission to review the operation of the 1980 Child Abduction Convention in 2001 recommended that Contracting States actively encourage international judicial co-operation. This view was repeated at the Fifth Special Commission in 2006.

Where this co-operation has manifested itself in the form of direct communication between judges, it has been noted that the procedural standards and safeguards of the forum should be respected. The latter was acknowledged in the "Emerging Guidance and General Principles for Judicial Communications" (Prel. Doc. No 3A for the attention of the Special Commission of June 2011, revised in July 2012) where it is stated in Principles 6.1 to 6.5 that:

"6.1 Every judge engaging in direct judicial communications must respect the law of his or her own jurisdiction.

6.2 When communicating, each judge seized should maintain his or her independence in reaching his or her own decision on the matter at issue.

6.3 Communications must not compromise the independence of the judge seized in reaching his or her own decision on the matter at issue.

6.4 In Contracting States in which direct judicial communications are practised, the following are commonly accepted procedural safeguards:

  • except in special circumstances, parties are to be notified of the nature of the proposed communication;
  • a record is to be kept of communications and it is to be made available to the parties;
  • any conclusions reached should be in writing;
  • parties or their representatives should have the opportunity to be present in certain cases, for example via conference call facilities.

6.5 Nothing in these commonly accepted procedural safeguards prevents a judge from following rules of domestic law or practices which allow greater latitude."

Direct judicial co-operation has been employed in several jurisdictions:

Y.D. v. J.B., [1996] R.D.F. 753 (Que.C.A.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA/ 369]

Hoole v. Hoole, 2008 BCSC 1248 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA/ 991]

Adkins v. Adkins, 2009 BCSC 337 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 1108]
In this case, as a result of the direct communication, the Convention proceedings were adjourned pending an adjudication of the substantive custody issue by the competent Court of the child's State of habitual residence in Nevada, United States of America.

United Kingdom - England and Wales
Re M. and J. (Abduction) (International Judicial Collaboration) [1999] 3 FCR 721 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 266]

Re A. (Custody Decision after Maltese Non-Return Order) [2006] EWHC 3397, [2007] 1 FLR 1923 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 883]

United Kingdom - Northern Ireland
RA v DA [2012] NIFam 9 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKn 1197]

United States of America
Panazatou v. Pantazatos, No. FA 960713571S (Conn. Super. Ct. Sept. 24, 1997) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USs 97]

Special provision is made for judicial communication in the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (1997), s. 110, see:

Criticism of the practice of direct judicial co-operation has been raised by the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region - Court of Appeal in D. v. G. [2001] 1179 HKCU 1 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/HK 595].

A study of all aspects of international judicial co-operation was undertaken by Philippe Lortie, Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, first in 2002: "Practical Mechanisms for Facilitating Direct International Judicial Communications in the Context of the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction: Preliminary Report", Preliminary Document No 6 of August 2002 for the attention of the Special Commission of September / October 2002.

In 2006, Philippe Lortie prepared the "Report on Judicial Communications in Relation to International Child Protection", Preliminary Document No 8 of October 2006 for the attention of the Fifth Meeting of the Special Commission to review the operation of the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (30 October - 9 November 2006).

(See < >, under "Child Abduction Section" then "Special Commission meetings on the practical operation of the Convention" and "Preliminary Documents".)

In 2013, the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference published the brochure "Direct Judicial Communications - Emerging Guidance regarding the development of the International Hague Network of Judges and General Principles for Judicial Communications, including commonly accepted safeguards for Direct Judicial Communications in specific cases, within the context of the International Hague Network of Judges". (See < >, under "Publications", then "Brochures".)

For other commentaries see:
Hague Conference "The Judges' Newsletter" Volume IV/Summer 2002 and Volume XV/Autumn 2009. (See < >, under "Child Abduction Section" then "Judges' Newsletter".)

R. Moglove Diamond, "Canadian Initiatives Respecting the Handling of Hague Abduction Convention Cases" (2008) 50 R.F.L. (6th) 275. 

(June 2014)