SOUTH BEND - A St. Joseph Circuit Court magistrate has ruled that his court should have jurisdiction in a bitter custody tug of war between a Granger woman and her estranged husband in Cyprus.
Marla Theocharides filed for divorce in the United States last year, but her husband, Charis, later sought and won custody of the couple’s two young children in a family court in Cyprus.
The result was two attorneys, representing each side, arguing the case in each country. Cypriot court officials resisted efforts to resolve the jurisdictional debate, local officials said.
On Wednesday morning, Charis Theocharides’ U.S. attorney withdrew from the case, meaning that no testimony against the motion was presented at the hearing that followed. In fact, Elkhart attorney Matthew Yeakey told Magistrate Larry Ambler that Charis Theocharides had not responded to three attempts to reach him in the last month.
After hearing from several witnesses in Marla Theocharides’ case, Ambler ruled that his court should retain jurisdiction over custody as well as the divorce case itself.
The ruling sets the stage for Marla Theocharides’ attorney, Len Zappia, to send the case to a neutral international court.
Marla and Charis Theocharides met as students at an Arizona college in 2001, marrying and settling 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.
Ambler heard testimony Wednesday from several witnesses, including Marla, who described Charis as becoming increasingly anxious and distraught over his life here in 2009.
“Charis was having medical problems and anxiety and wanted to spend time with his family,” she testified. “He would sit at home holding his chest and said he felt like he was having a heart attack.”
Every time they traveled to the emergency room, she said, he was found to be healthy but suffering from anxiety.
“He said the culture and work and living away from his family was causing him a great deal of stress,” Marla Theocharides testified.
So, she said, they made plans to spend several months in Cyprus, where Charis had found a six-month job and they had already bought a vacation home they rented to his sister. They listed their home here for rent but had no takers; so they eventually sold it, having trouble making two house payments.
In August 2009, Charis Theocharides took an oath of U.S. citizenship, a four-year process that cost $8,000.
They bought round-trip tickets, leaving in October 2009 and returning in July 2010.
Marla was miserable and says the patriarchal culture in Cyprus brought out an abusive side of her husband, which she described in court. Charis denies this, but other witnesses on Wednesday described hearing Charis verbally abuse his wife and supported her contention that he spent very little time with the children, now 2 and 5.