(CN) - A man sent to Singapore for work cannot have his children returned to him since the mother says their habitual residence in the United States was maintained, the 1st Circuit ruled.
Lisette Neergaard-Colon, a teacher from Boston, married Denmark-born software consultant Peter Moeller Neergaard in Massachusetts in 2011. They had two daughters, born a year apart in the Bay State.
When the children were 4 months old and 1 year old, respectively, in June 2012 the family packed up their things and moved to Singapore after the father got a temporary three-year assignment with his company.
The couple kept the two properties they had bought in Boston just weeks before relocating to Singapore, and maintained all their U.S. bank accounts, retirement accounts and credit cards.
Thinking it was just a temporary situation, Neergaard-Colon got maternity leave from her school district in Boston before leaving, and the family visited America for Christmas in 2012 and in the summer of 2013.
The parents underwent marital counseling in Singapore, but their relationship deteriorated and Lisette never returned with to Singapore with the children after a visit to the Unites States in January 2014.
Peter then petitioned in Boston for the return of his kids to Singapore, pursuant to the Hague Convention.
U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel of Boston ordered the children returned to Singpaore, citing the "habitual residence" clause of the Hague Convention, which sets out to prevent children from being abducted internationally.
A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit reversed last week, however, after finding that the court should have considered whether the parties intended to retain their "habitual residence in the United States while living abroad for a temporary period of fixed duration."
"The children were ages one and two at the time of retention," Judge Juan Tourrella wrote for the Boston-based federal appeals court. "These ages are important, because acclimation is rarely, if ever, a significant factor when children are very young. They did not attend school and did not participate in sports. None of their extended family lived in Singapore, and they took multiple trips - each several weeks long - to the United States during the year and a half they lived in Singapore. On these facts, we cannot conclude that the record points unequivocally to the children's habitual residence being in a particular place."
On remand, the District Court must complete its habitual residence analysis.