United States District Court, District of Columbia
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
P. Mehta, United States District Court Judge.
Sami Abou-Haidar resides in Paris, France. His wife,
Respondent Maria Eugenia Sanin Vasquez, lives in Washington,
D.C. The couple's daughter, E.A.-H.S., age four,
presently lives with her mother in Washington, D.C.
Petitioner filed this action on June 10, 2019, seeking return
of E.A.-H.S. to France, pursuant to the 1980 Hague Convention
on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
court held a two-day evidentiary hearing on the Petition on
August 1 and 2, 2019. The principal contested issues were:
(1) whether Respondent had “wrongfully retained”
E.A.-H.S., and (2) if she had, whether the United States or
France was the child's “habitual residence”
on the date of wrongful retention. On August 21, 2019, in an
abbreviated order, the court ruled in favor of Petitioner.
See Order, ECF No. 38. The court found that
Respondent had wrongfully retained the couple's daughter
as of May 7, 2019, when she served upon Petitioner a
Complaint for Custody filed in the D.C. Superior Court. The
court also concluded that, as of that date, E.A.-H.S.'s
place of “habitual residence” was France, and not
the United States. See Id. at 3-4. The court
therefore ordered the child's return to
Memorandum Opinion provides a more fulsome explanation of the
court's reasons for granting the Petition.
1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International
Child Abduction (“Convention”), T.I.A.S. No.
11670, S. Treaty Doc. No. 99-11, is a multilateral treaty
designed to address “the problem of international child
abductions during domestic disputes, ” Abbott v.
Abbott, 560 U.S. 1, 8 (2010). The Convention seeks
“to ensure that rights of custody and of access under
the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in
the other Contracting States” and creates protocols
“to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully
removed to or retained in any Contracting State.”
Id. at 8 (quoting Convention, art. 1 (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted)). The United States
ratified the Convention in 1988, see Lozano v. Montoya
Alvarez, 572 U.S. 1, 6 (2014), and implemented it the
same year through the International Child Abduction Remedies
Act (“ICARA”), 42 U.S.C. § 11601 et seq.
federal court's inquiry under the Convention is limited.
“The Convention and [ICARA] empower courts in the
United States to determine only rights under the Convention
and not the merits of any underlying child custody
claims.” 42 U.S.C. § 11601(b)(4) (emphasis added).
Likewise, the Convention provides that “[a] decision
under this Convention concerning the return of the child
shall not be taken to be a determination on the merits of any
custody issue.” Convention art. 19. Thus,
“[t]he basic purpose and function of the Hague
Convention and ICARA are to ensure the home country should
make the custody determination.” In re S.E.O.,
873 F.Supp.2d 536, 541 n.4 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting
Navani v. Shahani, 496 F.3d 1121, 1129 (10th Cir.
2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd in
part, vacated in part, remanded sub nom. Ozaltin v.
Ozaltin, 708 F.3d 355 (2d Cir. 2013); see also
Abbott, 560 U.S. at 9 (noting that the Convention does
not “alter the pre-abduction allocation of custody
rights but leaves custodial decisions to the courts of the
country of habitual residence”).
FINDINGS OF FACT
considered and weighed the testimony and evidence presented
by the parties, the court makes the following findings of
Petitioner and Respondent were married in Paris, France, in
October 2013. Trial Tr. at 29. Their daughter, E.A.-H.S., was
born in 2014 in Paris, France. Id. at 30.
Petitioner is a medical doctor who provides house-call
services, through a French company called SOS
Médecins. Id. at 28, 30. He is licensed to
practice medicine only in France. Id. at 28.
Respondent is a Ph.D-level economist. Pet'r Ex. 7. Since
2013, she has worked primarily as an associate professor at
the Université d' Evry Va' d' Essonne,
located just outside of Paris. See id.
Since the birth of their daughter, the parties have lived
primarily in Paris, with intermittent periods of stay in
Barcelona, Spain. Pet'r Exs. 9 at 2, 10 at 3. Until June
30, 2018, the family resided in a rented apartment, located
at 255 Rue Saint-Jacques, in Paris. Trial Tr. at 53;
Pet'r Ex. 13. E.A.-H.S. attended preschool nearby. Trial
Tr. at 116-17. The parties had an active social life in
Paris, often entertaining friends at their home. Id.
parties own an apartment in Barcelona, Spain, in which they
have stayed for extended periods of time, sometimes for
several months out of the year, typically during the spring
and summer months. Pet'r Exs. 9 at 2, 10 at
For instance, from 2015 to 2017, Respondent worked as a
visiting professor (or in a similar capacity) at universities
in Barcelona. See Trial Tr. at 164-65. During these
periods, Petitioner would travel back and forth to Paris for
work. Id. at 165, 167-68. E.A.-H.S. would attend
school when in Barcelona. Id. at 167.
According to Petitioner, E.A.-H.S. had more school friends
and was involved in more activities in Paris, than in
Barcelona. See Id. at 116-17. The court credits this
testimony as Respondent did not dispute it. See Id.
at 167 (testifying that E.A.-H.S. had friends in Barcelona,
but not disputing Petitioner's characterization of their
daughter's relative friendships and activities as between
Paris and Barcelona).
with the International Development Bank
January 2018, Respondent was offered the opportunity to serve
as a consultant with the International Development Bank
(“IDB”) in Washington, D.C. Id. at 34.
Petitioner supported Respondent's pursuit of the
opportunity. Id. at 42, 89. He agreed to structure
his schedule in such a way that he would, for ten to twelve
consecutive days, work in Paris and live in a small apartment
in Paris that he had purchased before marriage. Id.
at 42. For the remaining days of the month, he would live
with his family in Washington, D.C. Id.
court finds that the parties agreed to move their family to
Washington, D.C., for at least 18 months-the term of
Respondent's contract with IDB-but left open the
possibility of staying for a longer period. According to
Respondent, the initial contract that IDB offered her was for
an 18-month term, which could be renewed only after a
six-month period of separation. Id. at 175.
Petitioner and Respondent preferred that Respondent receive a
contract that allowed for successive renewal without a
six-month separation period. See Id. Such an
arrangement afforded the family flexibility to stay for
longer than 18 months in Washington, D.C., if desired.
See Id. Eventually, IDB offered Respondent a
contract that would allow for successive renewals, which she
accepted. See Id. at 175. Respondent began an
18-month term with the IDB on July 1, 2018. Id. at
court does not credit Petitioner's insistence that he
agreed to keep his family in Washington, D.C., for no more
than 18 months. See Id. at 46, 126-27. Petitioner
did not dispute Respondent's testimony that she
negotiated her contract to allow for the possibility of
successive terms with IDB, so that the family potentially