NORINDER v. FUENTES (September 6, 2011)

Magnus Norinder, a Swedish citizen, and Sharon Fuentes, a United States citizen living in Texas, met on the Internet in 2006. Their romance flourished. They were engaged in Sweden in February 2007, they conceived a child in Sweden in April, they were married in Sweden in August. Fuentes returned to Texas to complete a fellowship and Norinder joined her in January of 2008. In July of 2008, the couple and their new child moved to Sweden. Their relationship soured, seemingly as quickly as it had blossomed. There were many fights, some physical. Both experienced professional setbacks. Fuentes accused Norinder of alcohol and drug abuse. Fuentes and their son traveled to the United States in March of 2010, ostensibly for a two-week vacation. Instead, Fuentes informed Norinder that she was remaining in the United States with their son. Within a few months, Norinder found them in southern Illinois. He filed a petition under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. Judge Stiehl (S.D. Ill.) concluded that Sweden was the child's "habitual residence" and ordered him returned. Fuentes appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Manion, Wood, and Hamilton affirmed. The Act implements the Hague Convention, to which both Sweden and the United States are parties. It provides for the return of a child to his country of "habitual residence" when a child has been removed in violation of the Convention. Here, the Court first addressed Fuentes' contention that the district court limited her discovery rights improperly. It concluded that the district court acted properly in balancing the need for an expedited schedule in a case like this with Fuentes' need for discovery. The Court noted that Fuentes did not act expeditiously, that the district court accommodated several of her requests, that the district court actually bifurcated the hearing so as to resolve issues that were not related to her discovery request first, and Fuentes did not even object to the court's discovery order. On the merits, Fuentes asserted both that the United States was the child's "habitual residence" and that she carried her burden in proving that a return to Sweden would expose their child to grave harm. With respect to the former, the Court had no difficulty concluding that the district court did not err. Fuentes moved most of her personal belongings to Sweden, received permanent residency status there, took Swedish lessons, was negotiating for a hospital position, and retained no residence in the United States. With respect to the grave risk of harm exception, the Court noted that the district court specifically found Norinder more credible than Fuentes with respect to their testimony about his behavior and his treatment of their child. As a result, Fuentes did not meet the demanding clear and convincing evidence standard imposed by the Act. Finally, Fuentes challenges the district court's fee award. The Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's treatment of Fuentes' line item challenges and rejected her financial hardship argument because of a lack of support in the record.