Ignaccolo-Zenide v. Romania, no. 31679/96, (2001) 31 E.H.R.R. 7

INCADAT legal file Hague parental abduction

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The case related to two girls, born in 1981 and 1984, to a French mother and Romanian father. On 20 December 1989 the parents divorced in France. The Tribunal de Grande Instance at Bar-le-Duc recognised a consent order entered into by the parents whereby the father was accorded parental responsibility and the mother was awarded access rights.
In 1990 the father moved to the United States of America with the girls.
The mother commenced proceedings in France because she was unable to exercise her access rights. She also petitioned that she be accorded parental responsibility. Her application was rejected at first instance, but on 28 May 1991, the Cour d’appel at Metz granted her parental responsibility and ordered that the girls reside with her. The father was granted a right of access.
The father, who had then made a home in Texas, brought custody proceedings in the Harris County Court. On 30 September 1991, in an ex parte hearing, that court awarded him custody of the girls. In December 1991 the father moved to California.
In 1992 criminal proceedings were brought against the father, in his absence, in France.
Between 1993 and 1994 the mother obtained 5 judgments in California ordering the father to hand over the girls. On 10 August 1993 the California Superior Court recognised the order of 28 May 1991 of the Cour d’appel at Metz. On 1 February 1994 the Californian Court of Appeals ruled that the Harris County Court did not have jurisdiction to amend the order of the Cour d’appel at Metz.
In March 1994 the father left the United States of America and moved with the girls to Romania.
In November 1994 the United States Central Authority issued return proceedings under the Hague Convention. A month later the French Central Authority followed suit.
On 14 December 1994 a Bucharest court ordered the return of the children. However, the father concealed the children and the judgment was not enforced. The father’s home was visited several times but with no success. Criminal charges were not brought against the father.
On 1 September 1995 and 14 March 1996 the father’s appeals against the return order were dismissed. A challenge by the father against the enforcement of the order was similarly rejected on 9 February 1996. At the same time as the Hague Convention proceedings were on-going the father had initiated custody proceedings in Romania.
On 5 February 1996 a Bucharest court, applying the best interest standard, granted custody to the father. This decision was appealed on the basis that the mother or her agents had not been properly served. There were a series of appeals and counter appeals ending with a decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal on 28 May 1998 whereby the judgment of 5 February 1996 was upheld.
The father equally brought proceedings in France to have his position as custodian recognised there. On 22 February 1996 the Tribunal de Grande Instance at Metz rejected this application and held that the Bucharest court did not have jurisdiction to make its order of 5 February 1996.
The mother eventually met her children, for the first time in 7 years, at their school in Bucharest on 29 January 1997. The meeting lasted 10 minutes and the girls objected strongly at having any contact. Following the meeting the mother no longer sought to have the return order enforced. In a letter dated 31 January 1997 the Romanian Central Authority informed its French counterpart that it would not order the return of the children in the light of the children’s objections.
On 22 January 1996 the mother had issued an application before the European Court of Human Rights. It stated that in failing to take proper steps to enforce the various orders giving her care of the girls, in particular the return order of 14 December 1994, the Romanian authorities had breached her right to family life existing under Article 8. The mother also made an application under Article 41 for compensation.
In its report dated 9 September 1998 the Commission ruled unanimously that there had been a breach of Article 8.