Court of First Instance of Amaliada
13 March 2007
Rights of Custody - Art. 3 | Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b) | Objections of the Child to a Return - Art. 13(2) | Settlement of the Child - Art. 12(2)
The Court held that rights of custody were determined firstly according to the order of the Family Court of Australia - Sydney and secondly according to Australian family law (Family Law Act 1975 - Arts. 6IB, 61C, 6ID and 11 IB).
Under the relevant order both parents had joint parental responsibility for decisions concerning the children's long-term care, welfare and development. The Court stated that such an order was not a judicial order as understood in Greek law, since it contained no judicial opinion (it was not even signed by a judge, but was drawn up before the registrar of the Australian court).
It was to be understood therefore as a private agreement between the parents that had taken the form of a court order, thus was an act similar to a conciliation agreement certified by a Greek court. The Court noted that under Greek law, custody and access rights could not be regulated in this way, nevertheless since under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, rights of custody had to be determined pursuant to Australian law.
In the light of the above the parents were held to have joint parental responsibility for decisions concerning the long-term care, welfare and development of the children, thus their unilateral removal was in violation of the custody rights of the father.
Whilst the younger children (8 years old) had not been interviewed by the judge, the Court held that they should also not be returned, since that would lead to the separation of the children and subject all of them to a grave risk of psychological harm.
The two eldest children were opposed to their return to Australia. After speaking with them, the judge held that the two eldest children, aged fourteen and twelve respectively, had both the appropriate age and especially the maturity so that their opinion be taken into account.
Their opposition was expressed with stability and remarkable clarity, i.e. they raised arguments and evaluated the living conditions they had encountered in both countries, without expressing empathy for the father, whom they loved, nor excessive partiality for either of the two countries. The Court thus held that the requirements of Art. 13(2) of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention had been met and that the children should not be ordered to return.
The Court held that although the children had completely settled into their new environment, the exception under Art. 12 (2) of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention could not be examined since at the time of commencement of proceedings less than a year had elapsed from the date of the wrongful removal.
Author of the summary: Maria Psarra, LL.M., Greece
Preparation of INCADAT case law analysis in progress.
Preparation of INCADAT commentary in progress.
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)  1 WLR 654 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 34]
Re C. (Abduction: Grave Risk of Psychological Harm)  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)  3 FCR 43,  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)  UKSC 27,  1 A.C. 144 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1068] and Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKSC 10,  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]
K.S. v. L.S.  3 NZLR 837 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 770]
United Kingdom - Scotland
McCarthy v. McCarthy  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  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.  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)
Article 13(2) does not include a minimum age from which the objections of a child must be ascertained, rather it employs the formula that the child must have ‘attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of its views.' Nevertheless it was the intention of the drafters that the exception would be primarily directed towards teenagers who were not prepared to go back to their home State.
Undoubtedly influenced by domestic family law practice, different patterns emerged in Contracting States as to the manner in which this exception has been applied. Moreover those patterns may have evolved in jurisdictions during the life span of the application of the Convention, particularly as greater recognition has been paid to children as legal actors in their own right. Indeed in the European Union, at least as regards intra-EU abductions, there is now an obligation that a child is given an opportunity to be heard, unless this appears inappropriate having regard to his age or maturity: Council Regulation 2201/2003, Art. 11(2).
The issue of age and maturity is also closely inter-related with the threshold applied to the exception, that is to say the criteria used to determine the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to take a child's objections into account, see for example: Re T. (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return)  2 FLR 192 [INCADAT cite HC/E/UKe 270]; Zaffino v. Zaffino  1 FLR 410 [INCADAT cite HC/E/UKe 813]; W. v. W. 2004 S.C. 63 IH (1 Div) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 805]; White v. Northumberland  NZFLR 1105, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 902].
H.Z. v. State Central Authority  Fam CA 466, INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 876]
8 year old expressed objections which went beyond the mere expression of a preference or of ordinary wishes, however, in the light of her age and degree of maturity it would not be appropriate to take account of her views.
Director-General, Department of Families, Youth and Community Care v. Thorpe (1997) FLC 92-785 INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 212]
Objections of 9 year old upheld
4 UF 223/98, Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/DE 820]
No fixed age limit. The 8 year old concerned lacked sufficient maturity.
93 F 178/98 HK, Familengericht Flensburg (Family Court), 18 September 1998, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/DE 325]
Objections of 6 year old gathered, but not upheld.
In the Matter of M. N. (A Child)  IEHC 382, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IE 992]
Detailed assessment of the age at which the views of a child should be heard in the light of Article 11(2) of the Brussels II a Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003). Order made that the views of a 6 year old be ascertained.
U. v. D.  NZFLR 529, INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 472]
Objections of 7 year old considered, but not upheld.
5P.1/2005 /bnm, Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung (Tribunal Fédéral, 2ème Chambre Civile), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CH 795]
No minimum age. Children aged 9 1/2 and 10 ½ heard, but their objections were not upheld.
5P.3/2007 /bnm, Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CH 894]
A child would have the requisite maturity if he was able to understand the nature of the return proceedings. It was not possible to give general guidance as to the minimum age from which a child would be able to deal with such an abstract issue. The Court noted however that research in the field of child psychology suggested a child would only be capable of such reasoning from the age of 11 or 12. The court of appeal had therefore been entitled not to gather the views of children, then aged 9 and 7.
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re W (Minors)  EWCA 520 Civ, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 1324]
Objections of siblings aged 8 and almost 6 upheld.
The Court accepted that the objections of a child of 6 falling within the exception would have been outside the contemplation of the drafters. However, Wilson L.J. held that: "...over the last thirty years the need to take decisions about much younger children not necessarily in accordance with their wishes but at any rate in the light of their wishes has taken hold... ."
United Kingdom - Scotland
N.J.C. v. N.P.C.  CSIH 34, 2008 S.C. 571, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 996]
Views of 9 ½ year old not gathered; objections of her 15 and 11 year old siblings not upheld.
W. v. W. 2004 S.C. 63 IH (1 Div) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 805]
9 year old not of sufficient maturity to have her views considered - decision of trial judge reversed.
Blondin v. Dubois, 238 F.3d 153 (2d Cir. 2001) INCADAT cite: HC/E/USf 585]
No minimum age at which objections of a child can be ascertained. Objections of 8 year old, within the context of an Art. 13(1)b) assessment, upheld.
Escobar v. Flores 183 Cal. App. 4th 737 (2010), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USs 1026]
No minimum age at which objections of a child can be ascertained. Objections of 8 year old upheld.