A team of Proskauer attorneys, on behalf of 12 leading non-profit organizations specializing in advocacy for victims of domestic violence, drafted an amicus brief in support of a mother seeking to uphold a district court’s determination that her child would be subject to a grave risk of harm were he to be returned to his country of residence with his father.  The respondent and her minor child, K.D., fled French St. Martin to the United States to escape abuse at the hands of K.D.’s father.  In response to a petition filed under the Hague Convention by the child’s father, Judge Vincent L. Briccetti of the Southern District of New York determined that the minor child could not safely be returned to his home country with his father.  The father appealed to the Second Circuit.

Proskauer’s brief focused on the dangers of psychological abuse in intimate relationships and the potential for such abuse to escalate and lead to violence.  The petitioner (the minor child’s father) contended that the allegations of psychological abuse were not significant enough to show a grave risk of harm under the Hague Convention, which is the standard the respondent had to meet in order to keep her minor child from being returned.  While the district court declined to adopt such reasoning, amici ushered social science evidence for the appeal, showing that psychological abuse is just as traumatic as physical abuse for intimate partners and their children.

In this case, the father’s behavior closely followed a classic abusive pattern known as coercive control, where an abuser exerts pervasive control over all aspects of his or her victims’ lives through the use of psychological abuse punctuated by incidents of physical violence.  Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, the leading authority on intimate partner violence, signed on to Proskauer’s brief, which addressed Campbell’s ‘Danger Assessment’ to demonstrate that the father’s conduct was indicative of a high potential for physical violence towards K.D. and the respondent.  The child in this case would have been subject to a grave risk of physical and psychological harm if returned to his country of habitual residence.

Following oral argument in mid-December, the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s determination in a summary order, crediting the respondent’s trial testimony regarding the psychological abuse that she and K.D. experienced.  As for the broader impact of this decision, it is noteworthy that the district court not only credited the psychological abuse at issue, but specifically rejected the notion that this form of abuse was less significant and  could not constitute a grave risk of harm under the Hague Convention.

The Second Circuit’s summary affirmance of this well-reasoned decision is a victory for all victims of domestic violence.

To read our amicus brief please click here.