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A woman who abducted her two children because she feared that her abusive husband would win a custody battle in the French courts will be able to keep them in the United States following a federal appeals court ruling Thursday. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court’s ruling that the two children would be subjected to “grave risk of psychological harm” if returned to France. The decision in Blondin v. Dubois, 00-6066, affirms Southern District Judge Denny Chin’s application of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to the facts of the case. Marthe Dubois had claimed that the circumstances of her two children, 9-year-old Marie-Eline and 5-year-old Francois, allowed U.S. District Judge Chin to refuse to repatriate the children under Article 13(b) of the convention. While the convention requires the repatriation of abducted children, it provides for four exceptions, including where “there is a grave risk” that a return would “expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.” In August 1997, Dubois forged the name of her husband, Felix Blondin, on a passport application and fled to the United States. Blondin, whose allegedly abusive conduct had forced Dubois into a battered women’s shelter, filed suit in the Southern District seeking their return under the convention. Judge Chin agreed with Dubois that the children’s situation qualified for the Article 13(b) exception. But on an earlier appeal, the 2nd Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case with instructions that Chin consider any “ameliorative measures” that might reduce the risk associated with repatriation. In January 2000, Chin considered a number of such measures offered by Blondin and the French government, such as a promise that Blondin stay away from the children pending resolution of custody, and an offer of social services and free legal assistance by the government. But Chin found that any measures would be insufficient in lessening the risk of harm to the children. His finding was based in part on the testimony of an expert who said the children would suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder if returned to France, with or without their mother, and even if they did not live with their father. In the 2nd Circuit’s decision, Judge Jose A. Cabranes said that Blondin did not offer evidence contradicting the expert’s opinion and instead continued to argue that sufficient arrangements would be made on behalf of Dubois and the children. “We do not underestimate the importance of this evidence … ” Cabranes said. “ However, in light of the evidence presented by Dubois, Blondin’s evidence is essentially inapposite, as it does not purport to cast doubt on the court’s finding that even with all of these arrangements in place, the children face an almost certain recurrence of traumatic stress disorder on returning to France because they associate France with their father’s abuse and the trauma they suffered as a result.” Moreover, Cabranes said that Judge Chin, as part of his Article 13(b) analysis, “properly considered,” as one factor, the degree to which the children were settled in their new environment. Senior Judge Wilfred Feinberg and Judge Fred I. Parker joined in the decision. Sanford Hausler, Valerie S. Wolfman, Robert Arenstein and Linda Silberman represented Dubois. Barry D. Leiwant of the Legal Aid Society’s Federal Defender Division represented Blondin. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wendy H. Schwartz and Gideon A. Schor appeared for amicus curiae for the federal government.

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