Supreme Court of Poland
Superior Appellate Court
1 December 1999
Aims of the Convention - Preamble, Arts 1 and 2 | Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b) | Procedural Matters
The Supreme Court noted that international child abduction was a growing phenomenon and that the taking parent was usually seeking to establish an advantage in respect of subsequent custody proceedings. The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention was a response to the phenomenon and sought to secure the prompt return of abducted children.
The Supreme Court further noted that if the Convention's objectives were to be met, there had to be as uniform interpretation as possible of its provisions by all Contracting States.
The Court reviewed the core provisions of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, and held that they reflected the assumption that a prompt return of a child to its place of habitual residence before the removal was in his interests. Moreover, the courts in the latter State had best access to the information necessary to decide on the ultimate custody of such a child.
The Court added that the prompt return of wrongfully removed children was accepted by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 11). However, the Supreme Court recognised that prompt return was not an absolute obligation, for the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention contained certain exceptions, though it added that were these to be applied excessively there was a risk the Convention would not meet its objectives.
The Supreme Court held that the judgments of the lower instance courts proved the concerns of the drafters of the Convention as regards the extensive application of Article 13(1)(b). It noted that the restrictive interpretation of the exception, which corresponded with the intentions of the drafters, prevailed in the case law of Contracting States.
The Court held that an "intolerable situation" must be as serious as a grave risk of physical or psychological harm; nuisance or inconvenience were not sufficient. It added that Article 13(1)(b) referred to cases where there was a risk of violence towards a child or sexual abuse of a child by the applicant, or where the applicant was an alcoholic, a drug addict or evaded work.
The 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. A return order would usually involve inconveniences and negative experiences for a child, but did not envisage his separation from the taking parent, since the decision on return was not concerned with custody rights.
The Supreme Court held that where there were no objective obstacles to the return of a taking parent, but he simply did not wish to go back to the child's State of habitual residence, then it could be assumed that he considered his own interest to be more important that that of the child's.
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 act. 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).
Turning to the facts of the case, the Supreme Court held that there was no basis to justify the application of Article 13(1)(b). Given the child's age, her return could not be prevented because of separation from the mother and unspecified psychological harm that could result. Moreover, the mother had not identified any objective grounds that made it impossible for her to accompany the child.
The Supreme Court issued a new order for the return of the child.
The mother was ordered to pay the costs of the proceeding to the father.
The translation of the decision was provided by Judge Leszek Kuziak from Poland. The summary of the decision was prepared by Peter McEleavy.
Courts in all Contracting States must inevitably make reference to and evaluate the aims of the Convention if they are to understand the purpose of the instrument, and so be guided in how its concepts should be interpreted and provisions applied.
The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, explicitly and implicitly, embodies a range of aims and objectives, positive and negative, as it seeks to achieve a delicate balance between the competing interests of the central actors; the child, the left behind parent and the abducting parent, see for example the discussion in the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court: W.(V.) v. S.(D.), (1996) 2 SCR 108, (1996) 134 DLR 4th 481 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 17].
Article 1 identifies the core aims, namely that the Convention seeks:
"a) to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State; and
b) to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States."
Further clarification, most notably to the primary purpose of achieving the return of children where their removal or retention has led to the breach of actually exercised rights of custody, is given in the Preamble.
Therein it is recorded that:
"the interests of children are of paramount importance in matters relating to their custody;
and that States signatory desire:
to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention;
to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence; and
to secure protection for rights of access."
The aim of return and the manner in which it should best be achieved is equally reinforced in subsequent Articles, notably in the duties required of Central Authorities (Arts 8-10) and in the requirement for judicial authorities to act expeditiously (Art. 11).
Article 13, along with Articles 12(2) and 20, which contain the exceptions to the summary return mechanism, indicate that the Convention embodies an additional aim, namely that in certain defined circumstances regard may be paid to the specific situation, including the best interests, of the individual child or even taking parent.
The Pérez-Vera Explanatory Report draws (at para. 19) attention to an implicit aim on which the Convention rests, namely that any debate on the merits of custody rights should take place before the competent authorities in the State where the child had his habitual residence prior to its removal, see for example:
W., E. M. c. O., M. G., Supreme Court, June 14, 1995 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AR 362]
Supreme Court of Finland: KKO:2004:76 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FI 839]
CA Bordeaux, 19 janvier 2007, No de RG 06/002739 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 947]
T. v. M., 15 April 1992, transcript (Unofficial Translation), Supreme Court of Israel [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 214]
X. (the mother) v. De directie Preventie, en namens Y. (the father) (14 April 2000, ELRO nr. AA 5524, Zaaksnr.R99/076HR) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NL 316]
5A.582/2007 Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung, 4 décembre 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 986]
United Kingdom - Scotland
N.J.C. v. N.P.C.  CSIH 34, 2008 S.C. 571 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 996]
United States of America
Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927 (11th Cir. 1998) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 125]
The Pérez-Vera Report equally articulates the preventive dimension to the instrument's return aim (at paras. 17, 18, 25), a goal which was specifically highlighted during the ratification process of the Convention in the United States (see: Pub. Notice 957, 51 Fed. Reg. 10494, 10505 (1986)) and which has subsequently been relied upon in that Contracting State when applying the Convention, see:
Duarte v. Bardales, 526 F.3d 563 (9th Cir. 2008) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 741]
Applying the principle of equitable tolling where an abducted child had been concealed was held to be consistent with the purpose of the Convention to deter child abduction.
Furnes v. Reeves, 362 F.3d 702 (11th Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 578]
In contrast to other federal Courts of Appeals, the 11th Circuit was prepared to interpret a ne exeat right as including the right to determine a child's place of residence since the goal of the Hague Convention was to deter international abduction and the ne exeat right provided a parent with decision-making authority regarding the child's international relocation.
In other jurisdictions, deterrence has on occasion been raised as a relevant factor in the interpretation and application of the Convention, see for example:
J.E.A. v. C.L.M. (2002), 220 D.L.R. (4th) 577 (N.S.C.A.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 754]
United Kingdom - England and Wales
Re A.Z. (A Minor) (Abduction: Acquiescence)  1 FLR 682 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 50]
Aims and objectives may equally rise to prominence during the life of the instrument, such as the promotion of transfrontier contact, which it has been submitted will arise by virtue of a strict application of the Convention's summary return mechanism, see:
S. v. S.  NZFLR 625 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 296]
United Kingdom - England and Wales
Re R. (Child Abduction: Acquiescence)  1 FLR 716 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 60]
There is no hierarchy between the different aims of the Convention (Pérez-Vera Explanatory Report, at para. 18). Judicial interpretation may therefore differ as between Contracting States as more or less emphasis is placed on particular objectives. Equally jurisprudence may evolve, whether internally or internationally.
In United Kingdom case law (England and Wales) a decision of that jurisdiction's then supreme jurisdiction, the House of Lords, led to a reappraisal of the Convention's aims and consequently a re-alignment in court practice as regards the exceptions:
Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 55,  1 AC 1288 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 937]
Previously a desire to give effect to the primary goal of promoting return and thereby preventing an over-exploitation of the exceptions, had led to an additional test of exceptionality being added to the exceptions, see for example:
Re M. (A Child) (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return)  EWCA Civ 260 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 901]
It was this test of exceptionality which was subsequently held to be unwarranted by the House of Lords in Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 55,  1 AC 1288 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 937]
- Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine:
In United States Convention case law different approaches have been taken in respect of applicants who have or are alleged to have themselves breached court orders under the "fugitive disentitlement doctrine".
In Re Prevot, 59 F.3d 556 (6th Cir. 1995) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 150], the fugitive disentitlement doctrine was applied, the applicant father in the Convention application having left the United States to escape his criminal conviction and other responsibilities to the United States courts.
Walsh v. Walsh, No. 99-1747 (1st Cir. July 25, 2000) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 326]
In the instant case the father was a fugitive. Secondly, it was arguable there was some connection between his fugitive status and the petition. But the court found that the connection not to be strong enough to support the application of the doctrine. In any event, the court also held that applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine would impose too severe a sanction in a case involving parental rights.
In March v. Levine, 249 F.3d 462 (6th Cir. 2001) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 386], the doctrine was not applied where the applicant was in breach of civil orders.
In the Canadian case Kovacs v. Kovacs (2002), 59 O.R. (3d) 671 (Sup. Ct.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 760], the father's fugitive status was held to be a factor in there being a grave risk of harm facing the child.
Author: Peter McEleavy
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)