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U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS rules against dad seeking return of his daughter in international child abduction case

Posted Mar 5, 2014 11:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A father in the United Kingdom seeking the return of his daughter from the United States has lost his U.S. Supreme Court bid to delay a one-year deadline.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction generally requires the return of children who are abducted and taken to new countries if a parent seeks the child's return within a one-year period. The convention also states that, when a petition for return is filed after the one-year period, courts shall order the child’s return “unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.”

Manuel Jose Lozano had argued the deadline, part of an international treaty, was subject to equitable tolling because he did not know his daughter's location after she was abducted by her mother. In a unanimous opinion (PDF) by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the one-year deadline could not be extended to account for the time that the child was concealed from Lozano.

The drafters of the treaty could have specified that the one-year period begins to run upon the discovery of the abducted child, but did not do so, Thomas wrote for the court. “Given that the drafters did not adopt that alternative, the natural implication is that they did not intend the one-year period to commence on that later date,” Thomas said.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in a concurrence that courts have equitable discretion to order a child’s return even after the child has become settled. He was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

In the case before the court, the child’s mother, Diana Lucia Montoya Alvarez, brought her daughter, then 3, to the United States in July 2009. In a federal court hearing, Montoya Alvarez claimed physical and emotional abuse by Lozano. The court found insufficient evidence to make findings about domestic abuse or physical abuse of the child, but did find that the girl had heard her parents arguing. A therapist who saw the girl in New York testified that at first the girl was withdrawn and would wet herself, but she was a completely different child six months later.

The case is Lozano v. Alvarez.

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