Although Marla Theocharides has won custody of her children in an American court, she sees little hope that her now-ex-husband will be forced anytime soon to return the children to the country in which they were born.
So far, the court in Cyprus has refused to acknowledge jurisdiction here. And although Marla succeeded in making her case there last month and officials assured her they’d proceed with gathering evidence before deciding custody, not even her legal advocate is confident she will win that case.
“Cyprus has a history of delaying these cases for months, in an effort to 1) wear out the applicant financially, 2) create a time sector and seek to change the ‘habitual residence’ of the child and thus seek to change the jurisdiction of the case,” Karin von Krenner wrote in an e-mail. The American is now living in Germany, having lived through her own international custody battle and now working for others in similar situations.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Department authorities have done very little to help, von Krenner and Theocharides say.
“One must take into account the politics of ‘the Cyprus problem,’ ” von Krenner says. The U.S. and Cyprus “have a very long and difficult relationship, and children in these cases tend to be ‘collateral damage’ to politics and now, natural gas.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly said his office has been working with the Granger mother.
“He continues to make every effort to be helpful in this complicated and heartbreaking process, including contacting the State Department on her behalf," said Elizabeth Shappell, Donnelly’s communications director.
It was the State Department that initially advised Theocharides to allow her husband to retrieve the children in January and take them back to Cyprus.
Since then, she says, the department has switched people working on her case, lost track of her records and waffled on advice. Worse, although they respond to her calls and e-mails, her contacts do not seem to follow through.
“The State Department has not done anything on my behalf,” Theocharides says. “I feel like they’re basically there as a sounding board for me to call and then I hang up and get nothing. If they are doing something, I don’t know what it is.”
A State Department spokesman said in an e-mailed statement:
“Both our embassy in Nicosia and the Office of Children’s Issues (which deals with international custody disputes) maintain contact with Mrs. Theocharides and are providing all appropriate consular assistance.”
“To date, she has not filed a Hague application with the Office of Children’s Issues.”
The Hague Convention, an international treaty that comes into play in international children’s issues, is a set of methods under which countries can resolve these disputes. To file a Hague application, one must decide whether to file the request for the return of a child or access to the child.
Theocharides says her State Department contact told her the legal department advised that she could not ask for her children’s return, only access to them.
“I said, ‘That doesn’t make any sense at all,’ ” Theocharides said. “The last time I spoke with her, she said, ‘I’m not sure that’s true,’” and she promised to set up a meeting with the legal department.
Three requests to follow up on that meeting later, and still nothing has been scheduled.
Several more years?
As part of the Hague Convention, in 1996, member countries - which include Cyprus and the United States - voted to accept another “convention” with a long title that would essentially mean that member countries would honor the court rulings of their fellow countries.
Fifteen years later, the United States signed the treaty only last year; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lauded the move by saying: “This agreement ensures international recognition and enforcement of custody and visitation orders, complements and reinforces” the Hague Convention.