Monday, April 04, 2005

Montco resident seeks help in bringing son back to U.S.- PA

The Times Herald

The move away case from hell...

Excerpts below:

That is because his 3-year-old son, Nicholas, is being held by his ex-wife in her native country of Belarus, a former republic of the Soviet Union located in Eastern Europe just east of Poland, according to Kratz.

The 34-year-old computer software salesman said he last saw his only child last May 20 when, while the family was vacationing in the Belarus capital of Minsk, his wife disappeared with the toddler in the city where her family resides.

Kratz in January took a leave of absence to concentrate his efforts on having his son returned to the United States, which has no treaty with Belarus concerning child custody.

He is working with his local attorney, Charles J. King Jr. of Plymouth Meeting, and a lawyer he retained in Belarus. He is also busy contacting anyone he thinks might be able to assist him in having his son returned, from local police to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office to the federal Department of State and the office of Congresswoman Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-13th Dist.

"I just want my son back," said Kratz. "I do not want him to grow up in a country where all his rights and freedoms are abridged. I want him to have every opportunity that the United States has to offer."

Instead, Kratz said, his ex-wife has told him that when Nicholas turns 18, he can decide where he wants to live.

Fearing she would cut him off from contact with their son, Kratz petitioned the county court for custody. Typical in many custody battles, Kratz portrayed his wife as a poor and abusive mother while she claimed he was a poor and abusive father. The courts in the spring of 2003 granted each parent shared physical and legal custody of Nicholas.

The couple subsequently reconciled in the summer of 2003 and the custody petition was withdrawn.

"I truly loved my wife and wanted things to work out," said Kratz. "I told her that Nicholas should have both parents."

When Iryna expressed an interest in vacationing in Belarus and showing Nicholas off, Kratz said he agreed.

"I had never been out of the United States and it was going to be an adventure," said Kratz, adding he took his own mother along and that, while his brother was invited, he could not make it at the last minute.

Later that day, he received a call from Iryna and her family members, telling him through a friend they had sent to him to translate that he and his mother should return to the United States and that Iryna intended to remain in Belarus with Nicholas. Iryna was not happy in the United States and wanted to remain with her family, the translator told Kratz, he said.

Later, Kratz said, he discovered that Iryna, before leaving the United States, had run up bills on their charge accounts and had packed and brought with her to Belarus most of her clothing and Nicholas' clothes. At the time, he said, he had simply attributed the large amount of luggage to gifts that his wife wanted to bring to family members.

Kratz said he moved to a hotel with his mother, contacting his lawyer in the United States, obtaining a lawyer in Belarus and all the white trying over the phone to convince his wife to return to the United States.

He flew back to the United States on May 31 to appear in Montgomery County Court to seeking an emergency custody order while also filing for a divorce. He was subsequently granted temporary full custody of Nicholas, with the provision that this order could be modified if Iryna returned to the United States with Nicholas. His divorce became final on Feb. 23 of this year, according to court records.

"If she does not want to have a relationship, that's fine but I want my son back so I can be with him, so he can have his father and so he can be raised in this country," said Kratz.

Iryna filed divorce and custody petitions with the courts in Belarus but the lower court denied her request because of the similar filings in the Montgomery County Court, according to Kratz. She has since appealed that decision to a higher court in her native land and that appeal is pending, he said.

He said he also is working with federal state department officials and federal children agencies in the hope that they can convince government officials in Belarus to convince Iryna to return Nicholas to the land of his birth.

Kratz said he unsuccessfully attempted to convince local and state police to put Nicholas' picture and information on a nationwide computer system of abducted children.

One person willing to listen to his situation was county District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., according to Kratz.

"While his wife may have deceived Mr. Kratz about her reasons for leaving the country, there was no custody court order in effect at the time," said Castor.

Rachel Leed, Schwartz' press aide, said a legislative aide has been assigned to work with Kratz "and give him whatever help we can." Leed said she did not know what assistance they can offer Kratz because the office is in the preliminary stage of researching the situation.

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