August 2 , 2013
Indiana mom could be jailed in Cyprus as she fights for kids
Marla Theocharides is locked in an ugly international custody dispute
In a desperate attempt to stay close to her two children, Marla Theocharides packed her belongings and moved in April from Northern Indiana to Cyprus, where her ex-husband has kept their kids for more than two years despite US orders from Indiana giving the mother full custody.
On a number of occasions, her attempts to spend time with Katerina, 7, and Marcus, 4, have been thwarted by their father, who has denied visitation and ignored an order from the US court in South Bend, Indiana that grants custody of the children to their mother.
It’s yet another international custody dispute, similar to that of another Hoosier mom who traveled to Greece earlier this year in order to get her son back. That case ended happily for Alissa Zagaris, whose son is now with her in Noblesville.
But for Marla Theocharides, 33, things are not going well. In fact, she is about to go to jail.
A Cyprus court issued an arrest warrant for the Mishawaka native Friday, alleging failure to pay child support — despite the fact she cannot get a job because the financially struggling island country has yet to issue her a work permit.
“I expect to be arrested this week,” Theocharides said in an exclusive interview with The Indianapolis Star. “I am not legally allowed to work in Cyprus until they issue me a pink slip. I have applied for it but have not received it yet.”
Theocharides is supposed to pay her ex-husband 500 euros a month under a local court’s shared-custody decree that is supposed to guarantee her visitation rights. According to Theocharides, her ex-husband, Charis, is a business consultant for NCR (National Cash Register) in Nicosia and makes 4,200 euros a month, information she says she got from court documents.
Attempts to reach Charis have been unsuccessful.
Theocharides, on the other hand, is struggling. “I am living on my credit card for food and gas,” she said. “I cannot pay the money back; I have no income.”
For that, she expects to go to jail, though probably not for long.
“I am told they will put me in jail until I can pay,” she said. “When they realize that I cannot pay, they will make payment arrangements and release me.”
Theocharides moved to Cyprus because child welfare officials told Cypriot courts that her children need to have a close relationship with their mother. Both children were born in America when the couple were married. She quit her job at a South Bend dentist’s office and moved to Cyprus. Since that time, she’s seen her kids only a handful of times.
“They were all very brief (visits), of course,” she said. “My daughter is very brainwashed, so she will not speak to me or have anything to do with me. My son is fine. He plays and laughs with me. He lets me hold him and doesn’t want me to leave when it is time to go.”
Back in Indiana, her parents and sister are deeply concerned about events in Cyprus.
“My mom has been taking it pretty hard,” said Raquel Muessig, 32, Granger, Theocharides’ younger sister. “It’s very frustrating because all the doctors there recommended she come, but then nobody helps when she tries to visit them.
“I feel like her ex-husband is just wanting revenge and wants her to suffer. She is causing stress in his life, and he does not handle stress well.”
Theocharides notified the U.S. State Department. An official there told The Star that the State Department is aware of “this private legal matter” before the Cypriot courts and is “providing all appropriate assistance and will continue to monitor the case closely.”
Theocharides first reported that her children were taken from her by their father on Jan. 10, 2011.
The couple met in 2001 while in college in Arizona and married in 2004; their kids were born in a South Bend hospital. Theocharides’ husband took the oath as a U.S. citizen in 2009.
In October 2009, the family moved to Cyprus, a move that Theocharides thought would be temporary but her husband considered permanent. In July 2010, she returned to the U.S. with the kids, and in the face of what she said was an increasingly violent husband, she filed for divorce.
Her husband complained to authorities in Cyprus, prompting the U.S. State Department to send Theocharides a letter requesting that she return the children. That was followed by kidnapping charges against her.
In January 2011, on the advice of the State Department, Theocharides reluctantly allowed her husband to take the kids back to Cyprus. Since then, St. Joseph Circuit Court in South Bend has tried to intervene, retaining its original jurisdiction in the divorce proceedings.
In September 2011, despite the absence of her husband and his attorney, the court finalized the divorce and awarded custody to Theocharides.
Since that time, she has been back and forth to Cyprus for visitation attempts that often proved fruitless and on at least one occasion resulted in her arrest and a short stay in jail.
Late last year, the welfare department and a child psychologist in Cyprus reported to the courts that the children were not doing well — they live with their grandmother and are cared for by unrelated nanny — and they recommended that Theocharides go to Cyprus for an extended stay to re-establish her relationship with them.
Alissa Zagaris, who endured a similar struggle with an ex-husband in Greece, said this case is more difficult than hers.
“Marla’s case is so much more complicated than mine, but the basic facts are the same,” Zagaris said Monday. “Hoosier kids stuck in a foreign land against all laws and treaties.
“I hate the fact Marla has put her own safety and freedom at risk by moving to Cyprus, but I understand why she has. Marla is my hero and 1,000 times braver than I.”
In Cyprus, Marla Theocharides says she is becoming very concerned about her own safety.
“I have been assaulted, jailed, followed and harassed,” she said. “Anything can happen at any moment over here. My ex and his family are always planning something. I am even scared to go on the visits with my kids because I don’t want to get arrested in front of the children.”
But in a recent Facebook post, she showed resolve to stick it out until the end.
“He threatened me and told me that he has people after me and I will never last in Cyprus. WATCH ME. I will die for my kids. I am not afraid of him anymore.”
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