Petitioner Father (who is Swedish and French) and Respondent Mother (who is Japanese and American) lived a very mobile life. They met in France while Father lived in Sweden and Mother in New Jersey. Father then attended the University of Michigan for a graduate degree, found employment with Johnson & Johnson, and moved back to Europe for work. The couple agreed to placement with J&J in Brussels, Belgium, as they both spoke French. They married in Belgium, and resided there during their marriage, although they lived together in Rome for 1 year (2004 to 2005). They are the parents of two children, a daughter born in Brussels in 2009 and a son born in Brussels in 2015. The children are French and American. No one is a Belgian citizen. They lived in Belgium in a 10-year rental home. They then signed a 9-year lease on a larger home in Belgium in 2016. They filed joint tax returns in Belgium. Mother also filed U.S. tax returns, and voted in U.S. elections. She worked at two different international schools while residing in Belgium. Much of the family’s free time and school breaks were spent in France, where Father had family. They also regularly visited New Jersey for a month each summer, and during their winter breaks, as Mother’s family resided there. The oldest child was in school in Brussels, and engaged in a variety of activities, such as dance, piano, gymnastics, yoga, and rock climbing. The children are bilingual.
Since J&J is headquartered in NJ, from 2016 to 2018, Father informed his employer that he was interested in working for J&J in NJ. He also applied to jobs in England, Japan, Switzerland, France, Singapore, Canada, and elsewhere in the USA. In 2017, the parents agreed that Father would apply to J&J in Tokyo, Japan, with a goal of staying in Tokyo for 2-3 years and then returning to Belgium. In April 2017, they traveled to Tokyo to locate housing and enroll the daughter in school. Mother resigned from her job in Belgium, despite Father not yet having a fully negotiated contract in Tokyo. In June 2017, Father rejected the proposed Tokyo contract because it was insufficient to cover their cost of living. Since Mother quit her job at the private school, their daughter could no longer attend free-of-charge. All other options for school were fully enrolled. Therefore, the parents agreed that the children would attend school in NJ for one year (2018-2019) and live with Mother and her parents while they searched for more permanent schools in Brussels. Father also agreed to look for work in NJ. Mother and children left for NJ in August 2018. Father remained in Brussels. The oldest child got involved in activities and school in NJ, which both parents supported. Mother began applying for temporary employment in NJ.
The parties’ relationship was souring. During Christmas Break 2018 in Belgium, the parents agreed that Mother would return to Brussels in summer 2019 with the children. The updated travel authorization that both parents signed during this break included a July 10, 2019 return date to Belgium for their “trip” to the USA. The Father was unable to find employment in NJ. The family’s relocation to NJ on a more permanent basis was contingent on this. Yet, on July 10, 2019, Mother and children did not return to Belgium. In May 2019, Mother filed for custody in and Father filed for divorce in Belgium. The Belgian divorce was granted and Father filed a motion to dismiss the Mother’s complaint in NJ for lack of jurisdiction, which was granted in August 2019. On July 11, 2019, Father filed an application with the Belgian Central Authority under the Hague Abduction Convention. In November 2019, Father filed his Hague Abduction return suit in state court in NJ, but it was denied as being “inconsistent with the appellate process of the earlier Bergen County Superior Court action.” His motion for reconsideration was denied in January 2020. On April 21, 2020, he filed a Hague Abduction return suit in federal court.
The federal district court concluded that the children’s habitual residence as of July 10, 2019, was Belgium. This fact-based determination hinged a lot on the parents’ shared intent. The court also found the mother less than credible when she professed to want to keep the children in NJ for stability, but then also testified she would move anywhere Father got a job, except Belgium. The court also extrapolated that the parents had employed an interesting educational and cultural upbringing for the children, even using a one-person, one-language household where Mother would speak primarily English and Father would speak primarily French to the children. The court concluded that keeping the children in NJ without their father was contrary to their shared intent on how to raise the children. The Father’s encouragement of his daughter’s significant involvement in activities in NJ does not detract from the parents’ shared intent. Further, while in NJ, the children resided with Mother’s parents, and shared a bedroom. Mother borrowed a car from her parents. There was no movement towards establishing a more permanent residence in the USA.
Finding that no exceptions applied, the court ordered the children returned.