A team of King & Spalding lawyers secured a trial victory on behalf of its client by obtaining the denial of a petition seeking repatriation of the client’s four-year-old son to Hungary. The child had lived with his mother in Hungary for eleven months before the mother fled to the United States with the child to escape the father’s abuse.
The child’s father filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, claiming that the mother wrongfully removed the child and retained him in the United States in violation of his rights of custody. The petition sought repatriation of the child to Hungary under the Hague Convention’s requirement that jurisdiction over any custody dispute remain with the country of the child’s “habitual residence.”
King & Spalding argued that the petition should be denied because the father had failed to show either wrongful removal or wrongful retention: at the time the mother brought the child to the United States the father had no custodial rights under Hungarian law and by the time he obtained them by court order the child had become a “habitual resident” of the United States. King & Spalding also asserted several defenses on the mother’s behalf, including the defense that allows denial of the petition where there is a risk of grave harm to the child should he be returned to the country of habitual residence. In support of the “grave harm” defense, King & Spalding presented evidence of the father’s severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse of the mother and the risk of physical and psychological harm to the child should he be exposed to such abuse.
Following a two-day bench trial—which included testimony from the mother, the father, competing Hungarian law experts, and a psychological expert specializing in domestic abuse—U.S. District Court Judge William F. Kuntz, II of the Eastern District of New York issued an order denying the petition. Judge Kuntz ruled that the father failed to carry his burden of showing either wrongful removal or wrongful retention, and even if he could, the mother had met her burden of establishing both the ”grave harm” and “well settled” defenses.
The King & Spalding pro bono team representing the mother included Emmett Murphy, Jeremy Bylund, Christina Conroy, Evan Ennis, Alex McLamb and Tim Caine.