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U.K. Abduction Claim Against N.Y. Dad Revived

MANHATTAN (CN) - A family court custody decision does not trump international child-abduction protocol under the Hague Convention, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday.

The decision stems from a 2013 federal petition Lisa Tann, a citizen of the United Kingdom living in Belfast, filed in Buffalo, N.Y., for the return of her son, J.D.

Tann claimed that her former paramour had brought their 11-year-old son to New York for a holiday earlier that year, but never returned him.

At the time, the ex, George Bennett, was living with his wife, Miranda, in Medina, about an hour northeast of Buffalo in Orleans County. Both are U.S. citizens.

Tann petitioned for her son's return to Northern Ireland under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, a U.S. law that implemented the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an 87-nation treaty.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah McCarthy dismissed Tann's petition last year, however, finding that J.D. preferred to stay in the United States, though his home was in the United Kingdom.

After Tann appealed to the Second Circuit, the Family Court of Orleans County granted full custody of J.D. to his father.

George and Miranda Bennett then moved to dismiss Tann's appeal as moot, contending the circuit no longer could grant relief.

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit disagreed Thursday in an unsigned, six-page opinion.

The Hague Convention states that a custody decision made in the country where a child was taken "shall not be a ground for refusing to return a child under this Convention," the judges noted.

One of the primary purposes of the Hague Convention was to prevent situations in which parents shopped around for a jurisdiction that would look favorably on their custody claims, they said.

According to the ruling, Tann's case was the first of its kind before the Second Circuit, but the judges found guidance in a 2012 Seventh Circuit opinion.

That Chicago-based court had scoffed at the idea of "racing to a courthouse" to obtain a custody judgment that would moot a petition to return a child.

"The entire purpose of the convention is to deter parents from absconding with their children and crossing international borders in the hopes of obtaining a favorable custody determination in a friendlier jurisdiction," the Seventh Circuit said in Walker v. Walker.

The Second Circuit found the same issues in the Tann case.

"Holding that Tann's petition is moot because the Bennetts received a favorable custody determination in a potentially friendlier New York court could encourage the jurisdictional gerrymandering that the Hague Convention was designed to prevent," the panel said.

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann and Judges Ralph Winter and John Walker concurred in the opinion.

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