The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday for an American woman who is involved in a bitter international custody dispute with her Italian husband over their young son.
The high court threw out lower court decisions ordering the return of the boy to Italy despite finding that he would be at “grave risk of psychological harm” because of the father’s physical and emotional abuse of the mother. The child, now around 6, has been living in the U.S. with his mother since 2018.
Federal courts in New York ruled that judges must try to return children to their usual country of residence by imposing conditions that would mitigate the risk, under the international Hague Convention on child abduction.
Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said judges have ample discretion to refrain from ordering a child returned, if they find “the grave risk so unequivocal, or the potential harm so severe, that ameliorative measures would be inappropriate.”
The justices ordered a new look at the case with that discretion in mind.
It’s beyond dispute, Sotomayor wrote, that the relationship between Narkis Golan, a U.S. citizen, and Isacco Saada, an Italian, “was characterized by violence from the beginning.” They met at a wedding in Milan in 2014, were married a year later and had their son a year after that.
“The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair. Saada also yelled and swore at Golan and frequently insulted her and called her names, often in front of other people. Saada once told Golan’s family that he would kill her. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son,” Sotomayor wrote.
There is no evidence Saada was abusive toward the child.
Golan left Italy with the child in 2018 and hasn’t returned.
Under the court order the Supreme Court rejected Wednesday, the child would have lived with his mother in Italy and the father would have supervised visits. Saada would not be allowed to have any contact with Golan for a year.