The day before Thanksgiving Max Troitsky got a call from his mom asking if he knew that his estranged wife and toddler daughter were visiting Russia.
He didn’t, but should have. Anna Troitsky was not supposed to leave the U.S. with their only child without his permission under their court-ordered custody agreement.
Nearly two months later, the Bensalem man is going public with what had been a private and bitter custody dispute in an effort to convince his wife to bring their daughter home or convince Russian authorities to intervene.
His attorney believes the situation could be Russia’s first test under the Hague Abduction Convention, which dictates civil aspects of International Child Abduction. In October Russia joined the Convention as a partner country, meaning it will honor civil verdicts issued by foreign courts, such as custody orders.
The U.S. State Department has seen a sharp increase in the number of international parental child abductions.
The federal agency had 1,135 reports of international child abductions in fiscal year 2009, and most of the alleged abductions were in Hague Convention partner countries, according to the most recent U.S. Department of State statistics. In 2006, there were 642 international abduction cases.
That same year, 436 children abducted or wrongly retained in foreign countries were returned to the United States, most of the children were returned from countries that are Hague Convention partners with the U.S.
The Troitsky’s custody saga started not long after the couple, both Russia natives, filed for divorce in 2010 after five years of marriage citing irreconcilable differences, according to court papers. At the time, Julie was 7 months old.
After the couple separated, Troitsky moved to Bensalem and Anna, Julie and mother-in-law Elena Demyanyuk continued to live in the family’s Upper Southampton home.
As the divorce and custody cases proceeded through the courts, Anna filed a petition seeking court permission to relocate to either Moscow, Russia, or Denver, Colorado, where her brother lives.
Troitsky says Anna, who came to the U.S. shortly before they married, often fought his efforts to get more visitations and overnight stays with their daughter.
“What parent doesn’t want to spend time with your child,” he said. “It was painful to me, painful to my parents, who rarely see their grandchild.”
In mid-November, though, a Bucks County judge issued custody order granting the couple shared legal custody of Julie. Anna had primary physical custody and Troitsky partial physical custody including weekends, overnight and weekday dinners. The judge also denied Anna’s request to relocate to either Russia or Denver, according to court papers.
Troitsky claims Anna only started talking about wanting to return to Russia after the divorce was filed, but he never anticipated his wife would violate the custody order.
“I certainly had no idea they were contemplating this,” he said.
The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching Montgomery County attorney Matthew F. Fox who is listed in court records as representing Anna Troitsky in her divorce and custody cases.
Four days after the final custody order was issued, though, Anna, Elena and Julie secretly left the U.S., Troitsky said.
Newtown Township attorney Jeff Leibmann, who represents Troitsky, believes Anna was able to leave the U.S. with Julie, who did not have a U.S. passport because she added her name to her Russian passport. Russia allows its citizens to add the names of children to the passports of parents.
Two days after arriving in Moscow, Elena told Troitsky’s mom in a phone call the three were in Moscow for a few days visiting Anna’s sick father.
Elena allegedly claimed that when Anna and Julie tried to return to the U.S. they were turned away at the airport because of a passport issue with Julie. She said Troitsky had to send a consent letter showing he authorized her to leave the U.S. with Julie, as required by their custody agreement.
The next day, when Troitsky reached Anna on the phone, she assured him she planned to return with Julie, but she also wanted a guarantee that she wouldn’t face criminal charges for taking their daughter out of the country.
Troitsky says he agreed not to pursue legal action. He made Anna an appointment at the U.S. embassy in Russia to start the process to get Julie a passport but she didn’t show up, Troitsky said.
Two days later, on Nov. 26, Troitsky said, Anna told him that she decided she wanted to stay longer in Russia. During that conversation, Troitsky spent a few minutes with Julie on Skype. It was the last time he saw or spoke to her, he says.
Within days, Troitsky says his suspicions that Anna had no plans to return were confirmed.
After he visited the Upper Southampton home, he discovered most of Anna and Julie’s clothes and personal belongings including family photos were gone. All the joint legal documents, including the deed to the house and title were gone, as were the car keys. He learned she quit her job after arriving in Moscow.
“It was clear she had no intention of ever coming back,” he said.
Troitsky and Anna had their last phone conversation three days before an emergency custody hearing was scheduled in Bucks County Court, he said. She told him she didn’t know when she’d return to the U.S.
At that hearing, a Bucks County judge ordered Anna to return to the U.S. with Julie within seven days, otherwise full physical and legal custody would be transferred to Troitsky.
But as far as he knows the three remain in Russia, most likely Moscow.
The U.S. embassy in Russia has been providing updates to Troitsky, but there hasn’t been much to report recently. The embassy has not had much success reaching Anna and Elena and even if they do, they can only encourage her to return, Leibmann said.
The embassy also has reached out to the Russian authorities for help finding Julie, but they are not under any obligation to help find her until Russia establishes a Central Authority to oversee compliance with the Hague Convention.
Troitsky said there is no reason his estranged wife should want to limit his access to Julie. There are no abuse allegations or evidence in any of the custody trial or related investigation. A check of county court records shows no protection from abuse orders filed against either Troitsky.
At this point, Anna may believe that she will be arrested if she returns, Troitsky said, adding he is not interested in pursuing criminal charges. The Upper Southampton police and the FBI have been notified about the situation to get Julie’s photos added to Interpol and U.S. law enforcement databases.
To get his daughter’s face, and his story, into the public eye, Troitsky and his supporters have created a Web site, called “Help Bring Julie Home.”
Troitsky says he has been on an emotional rollercoaster and he has spent many sleepless nights wondering about his child. He misses their special “father-daughter kind of moments.”
“At this point all I want to say is bring Julie back, come back with her, we’ll figure out the details of the custody,” he said. “Taking a child away from a father is not an option.”
In a few weeks Julie turns 2. The most time passes without contact with his daughter, the more Troitsky worries.
“She is probably starting to forget me,” he said.
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