The parties are parents to a 13- and an 11-year-old. In 2015, Mr. Bhattacharjee sought a divorce from the Singapore High Court (as the family had been living in Singapore since about 2008). In 2018, with the divorce proceeding still pending, Ms. Craig requested permission to relocate the children to St. Louis. On September 21, 2020, the Singapore High Court rejected Ms. Craig’s relocation request and granted joint custody of the children to the parties. In May 2021, Mr. Bhattacharjee sought a restraining order from the courts to prevent Ms. Craig from taking the children out of Singapore. Almost one week before the hearing on that motion, Ms. Craig removed the children to Missouri. Mr. Bhattacharjee sought the children’s return using the Hague Abduction Convention. Ms. Craig concedes that he met his prima facie case, and she raises only the mature child’s objection exception on behalf of their 13-year-old.
When the only potential reason for not returning a child to its habitual residence is that child’s objection, the court must apply a stricter standard in considering the child’s wishes. The court needs to determine whether the child is of sufficient age and maturity to account for his views, and then evaluate whether the child has a “particularized objection” or merely states a preference.
The court concluded that the preponderance of the evidence in the record does not support that the child has reached sufficient maturity for the court to consider his objection. He is at the age where he has started modeling adult behavior and asks to be treated like an adult. This child has been “blessed with the intelligence and education to express his opinions clearly.” But, there is significant evidence that his responses to minor adversities are exaggerated and disproportionate. When he spoke of being a camp counselor for younger children, he chose to focus on the negative aspect of the younger children rather than the actual experience, which does not show his maturity. His perspective and priorities are typical of a child.
In addition to not being mature enough to consider his objection, his objection was not the kind of particularized objection that must be stated to form the basis of an exception under Article 13. He stated a preference to be with his mother over his father based on his father’s rigidity and rules. His preference to be around family in the U.S. over his family in Singapore, and his preference for a different school or curriculum than the one in Singapore, are not the type of objections contemplated by this exception. Finally, the child objected to being conscripted into the Singaporean military if he becomes a permanent resident and that he wants to avoid the “really creepy, scary” rules imposed by the Singaporean government due to COVID. But, his opinions lacked substance that merits not being returned. For instance, his was unable to play baseball at his Singaporean school due to COVID, and hence his dislike for their COVID rules. There was also insufficient evidence that this child would be required to become a permanent resident or definitely be placed in their military service.