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Repond v. Repond

June 17, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 95-D-3377. Honorable James J. Konetski, Judge, Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

[8]  Silvia Repond, petitioner and the custodial parent of the parties' three children, filed a petition for leave to remove the children from Illinois to Switzerland. In September 2003, pursuant to an agreement between Silvia and respondent, Jose Repond, the trial court entered an order allowing the removal of the parties' oldest child, Olivier, to Switzerland. In October 2003, following a hearing, the trial court denied the petition for removal of the parties' two younger sons, Laurent and Frederic. On appeal, Silvia contends that the trial court's denial of her petition to remove was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We reverse and remand.

[9]  The parties were married on February 20, 1986. Three children were born to the marriage: Olivier, born February 25, 1986; Laurent, born January 1, 1988; and Frederic, born August 14, 1993. The parties' marriage was dissolved on September 17, 1997. The judgment of dissolution awarded Silvia sole custody of the children and granted Jose visitation one evening per week, alternating weekends, two weeks during the summer, and alternating major holidays.

[10]   On July 11, 2003, Silvia petitioned for leave to remove the parties' children to Morges, Switzerland. In her petition, Silvia alleged that she was a physicist and had been employed at Fermilab Laboratories (Fermilab) until June 2003. Since January 2003, when she was informed that her employment would terminate, Silvia had unsuccessfully applied for positions in the United States. Silvia was offered several opportunities for employment in Switzerland. Silvia alleged that moving to Switzerland would allow her to pursue her career and to provide the children with a good standard of living.

[11]   On August 24, 2003, pursuant to motions of the parties, the trial court appointed attorney Joseph Beck as the children's representative. On August 27, 2003, the trial court appointed clinical psychologist Dr. George Hotchkiss to perform an evaluation of the parties and their children and to make a recommendation to the court on the removal petition. On September 17, 2003, the parties agreed to the entry of an order allowing the removal of Olivier from Illinois to Switzerland.

[12]   During the first three days of October 2003, the trial court conducted a hearing on the petition to remove as it related to Laurent and Frederic. At the hearing, Silvia testified that she, Laurent, and Frederic were residing in Wheaton at the home of friends. She was not currently employed. She had been employed as a research associate in high energy physics at Fermilab until June 2003. Silvia testified that she looked for employment in the area but was not successful. She married Jean-Phillipe Ansermet on June 21, 2003. Silvia testified that Ansermet had previously been a professor at the University of Illinois in Champaign. He attempted to extend his employment with the University but could not. He currently resides in Morges, Switzerland, where he is employed as a professor of physics and as the director of the Institute of Physics. Ansermet earns approximately $100,000 per year. Silvia testified that the children were fond of Ansermet, and they enjoyed participating in activities as a family, including attending church, going to the movies, going to the park, and going out to eat. Silvia also testified that during past visits to Switzerland, Ansermet taught the boys to sail.

[13]   Silvia testified that the area of Switzerland where Morges is located has a large international population because the United Nations and the International Center for Nuclear Research are located there. Silvia testified that Laurent could attend an international high school near Morges that has a curriculum comparable to American high schools. She testified that Olivier and Laurent have visited the school and have talked to the dean. The school offers advanced courses in math, biology, and computers. The school also has an extracurricular chess group and a football program that coincide with Laurent's interests. Olivier currently attends this high school. Silvia testified that Frederic could be enrolled in the public elementary school in Morges. Silvia spoke with the director of the school and learned that the school has a program for children from foreign countries. The children are taught the same curriculum as schools in the United States, with a special teacher to help them transition from an English-speaking classroom to a French-speaking classroom. Silvia testified that she and the children also found an evangelical church in Switzerland that is similar to the one they attend in Wheaton.

[14]   The home in which Silvia and the children would reside in Morges is owned by Ansermet's family. It has seven bedrooms and each child would have his own bedroom. The elementary school is about a 10-minute walk from the home, and the high school is a 25-minute train ride. Silvia testified that both Laurent and Frederic could visit Jose for six weeks in the summer and one to two weeks during Christmas break. She further testified that there would be two other school breaks during which they could visit Jose. Silvia testified that Jose's parents, brother, and extended family live in Switzerland. Jose's parents live two hours from Morges by train and his brother lives one hour by train. Jose also has aunts and uncles who live approximately a half hour from Morges. Silvia also noted that Jose frequently travels to Hamburg, Germany, for work. Silvia testified that she intends to return to Illinois during Easter vacations to maintain contact with her friends. She also testified that Ansermet has a daughter in Champaign, Illinois, with whom he visits regularly.

[15]   Dr. Hotchkiss testified that he spent approximately 12 hours interviewing the parties and their children. He testified that Silvia was the primary caregiver of the children. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that Frederic was generally positive about moving to Switzerland. Frederic liked the mountains and the opportunities available in Switzerland but was nervous about learning to speak French. Frederic seemed to view learning French as a challenge and stated that he would like to learn other languages as well. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that Frederic had a close relationship with his mother and that she supported him in his academic and religious activities.

[16]   Dr. Hotchkiss testified that Laurent had negative feelings about the prospect of moving to Switzerland. Laurent was anxious about leaving his friends and about having less opportunity to be with his father. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that Silvia had agreed that Laurent could remain in Illinois if he resided with Jose. However, Jose told Dr. Hotchkiss that his sons could not live with him.

[17]   Dr. Hotchkiss reported that Jose missed approximately one-half of his visitation opportunities in the past several years. Laurent and Frederic told Dr. Hotchkiss that they enjoyed the time they spent with their father, although Laurent expressed frustration with the visits. Laurent was frustrated because he did not feel welcome in his father's home and he had difficulty inviting friends to visit and participating in extracurricular activities when he was there. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that all three boys do well academically and are involved in their church youth group. All of the children expressed a fondness for Ansermet and felt that Ansermet was caring and interested in their lives. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that keeping the children together was an important consideration in deciding where they should live. Dr. Hotchkiss opined that the removal of the children to Switzerland was in their best interests. Dr. Hotchkiss testified that Jose could maintain his relationship with the children if he was granted sufficient visitation. Dr. Hotchkiss recommended a visit during the Christmas school holiday and a long visit during the summer.

[18]   Dr. Hotchkiss's 10-page written report detailing his findings and recommendations was admitted into evidence. The report indicated that Jose is married and lives in Morris, Illinois. Jose has a two-year-old son and his wife was expecting another child in March 2004. Jose has been employed at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont for 18 years and his typical work hours were from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jose travels to Europe for business about four times per year. These trips last from one to three weeks. Jose's parents and his brother live in Switzerland.

[19]   Dr. Hotchkiss's report further reflected that communication between the parties was difficult. Both Sylvia and Jose expressed complaints about each other in matters regarding the children. The report indicated that Olivier strongly wished to relocate to Switzerland, and before the evaluation process was completed, the parties agreed to allow Olivier to move there to begin his senior year in high school.

[20]   Dr. Hotchkiss's report provided that the children have a limited "sense of home" established with their father. The report reflected that, when asked to talk about his father, Frederic stated, "I don't really know dad too well." The report further reflected that Jose's wife frequently absents herself from contact and involvement ...

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