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Home / Featured / St. Louis firm aids Spanish father with custody dispute in Missouri

St. Louis firm aids Spanish father with custody dispute in Missouri

A mother must return to Spain and redraw the shared custody plan for her 10-year-old, after she disobeyed a Spanish court order by moving him to her Missouri hometown.

A month after a court in Seville, Spain provided a 2021 judgment on the shared custody of a boy between U.S. mother Erica Hansen and Italian father Fabrizio Guzzo, Hansen requested to return to the United States. Hansen was renting an apartment that was being sold to a new owner. She claimed she didn’t have housing and hoped for better job prospects in St. Charles County, Missouri.

What was missing, says Guzzo’s Missouri attorney Jim Carmody of Carmody MacDonald, was a request to revise the custody plan to allow for an agreed-upon residence.

“It is counterintuitive to move during or shortly after a custody judgment anywhere,” Carmody said.

Carmody said the Spanish court did not view Hansen’s request as an emergency, since she previously worked with U.S. clients remotely from Spain. Within days of receiving the September 2021 judgment that “flatly denied” this request, Hansen moved with her son to St. Charles anyway, notifying the court and Guzzo later via email.

Guzzo took action in the Spanish court. With the help of Carmody MacDonald attorneys in Missouri, he also filed a January 2022 complaint to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri that came before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Cohen.

John D. Kerschman, of Ahearn Kerschman in Clayton, represented Hansen. He did not respond to an email requesting comment before press time.

Cohen did not reinvent the wheel in her decision. In 2020, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the Monaske v. Paglieri opinion, which answered the question of jurisdiction in U.S. cases that fall under the Hague Convention’s Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) is the U.S. implementation of the Hague Convention’s baseline rules. Ginsburg wrote that the concept of “habitual residence” described in this area of law determines jurisdiction, not the details of an individual custody plan, based on where a child has resided for most of their life.

In the 10 year old’s case, this meant custody proceedings must be determined in Spain, where he had lived with his unmarried parents for five years before they split up when he turned nine. Hansen claimed that their U.S. citizenship had greater weight, but Carmody said the federal court didn’t accept this after the boy had spent most of his life in Spain.

Cohen also interviewed the child alone in her chambers. A transcript of this is under seal, though Carmody said she handled this conversation not just as a judge, but as a human.

“I feel for this kid, because he likes it here,” Carmody said.

The case is Fabrizio Guzzo v. Erica Hansen, 4:22-CV-15. 

See also: Settlement ends malpractice suit stemming from divorce