Four times a week, Marla Theocharides is allowed to call her two children at their father's home in Cyprus, half a world away.
She calls despite the fact that now, when the time zone gods are aligned and she can speak with them, she knows it's quite possible they'll call her names and hang up on her, an adult heard laughing in the background.
She calls despite the fact that her husband, Charis, refused a package of toys and clothes she mailed for their 2- and 5-year-old children several weeks ago.
She calls despite the fact that she can hear in her 5-year-old's voice the English that is becoming more accented and broken the longer she lives so far away from everything she knew in the United States, where she was born.
She calls because a Cyprus court, which has steadfastly insisted that it has jurisdiction over the Theocharideses' bitter divorce and custody battle, has finally granted her scheduled times to speak with her children.
She calls because if she were to travel to Cyprus to hold her children again, or even to plead her case in a court hearing, she would be arrested.
Marla Theocharides pins her hopes on a St. Joseph County hearing today, 6,000 miles from her children.
Marla and Charis Theocharides met as students at an Arizona college in 2001, marrying and setting up home in the South Bend area in 2004. Marla, now 32, grew up here; Charis, now 35 and born in Cyprus, took the U.S. oath of citizenship in August 2009.
The children were born in Memorial Hospital, Katerina in 2005, Marcus in May 2009.
In October 2009, the family moved to Cyprus.
Here's where their accounts diverge: Marla insists the agreement was to live in Cyprus for a while, for her children to get to know their Cypriot family, but eventually returning home; Charis says the move was meant to be permanent.
Marla was miserable and says the patriarchal culture in Cyprus brought out an abusive side of her husband. Charis denies this.
But after a visit home with her children last summer, Marla decided not to return to Cyprus and filed for divorce here.
When the children did not return to Cyprus, Charis approached Cypriot authorities. A warrant was issued for Marla's arrest, charging her with kidnapping. Marla allowed him to retrieve the children in January 2011.
Soon afterward, the Family Court in Nicosia filed a motion with St. Joseph Court Magistrate Larry Ambler, asking that the case here be dismissed and for the Nicosia, Cyprus, court to take it over. After a hearing, Ambler denied the motion on May 19, finding Marla Theocharides' arguments more compelling that the case should remain in the United States.
But instead of releasing its own hold on the divorce, the court in Cyprus has since awarded sole custody to Charis and will not allow the children to visit the United States.
Local authorities' attempts to arrange a conference call of some sort with the Cyprus judge, in an effort to resolve the jurisdiction dispute, were unfruitful.
Level playing field?
Much hinges on local custody hearing
Granger woman's battle with Cyprus court, husband grows more heated
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