QUEENSBURY — Corey McKeighan felt uneasy, but there was little he could do.
The Queensbury resident long had concerns about a Warren County Family Court order that allowed his ex-wife to take their then 3-year-old son to her parents’ home in Russia for a three-week visit.
His former wife, Olga McKeighan, had taken Xavier there once before, and returned as agreed. Still, knowing the vastly different world and dubious legal system abroad, McKeighan had a bad feeling about what could go wrong.
On Aug. 28, Xavier and his mother flew to her family home in Siberia, the return trip scheduled for Sept. 16.
The day before she was to bring Xavier back, Corey McKeighan got a phone call from his ex-wife. He said she told him they weren’t coming back, and he would never see his son again.
McKeighan has not spoken to his son since. He is in a legal stalemate three months later as his young son lives thousands of miles away in a foreign land and the local court and criminal justice systems struggle to figure out a way to help him.
He missed his son’s 4th birthday on Sept. 19 and is heartbroken at the prospect of not seeing his boy for Christmas, either.
He worries that his son thinks he abandoned him and has no understanding of what happened.
“It’s a big mess,” McKeighan said. “I’m trying everything I can, but it just seems like nobody can help.”
Corey McKeighan met Olga when the two worked together at a restaurant in Lake George. She came to the area as a seasonal foreign worker and a relationship sprouted that led to an eight-year marriage. She moved to New York City after they divorced, and Corey McKeighan had physical custody of his son.
Xavier is autistic and had been doing well at Prospect School in Queensbury, but McKeighan said the services available here don’t exist in the city of Krasnoyarsk, where Olga McKeighan took her son. He visited his ex-wife’s family there five years ago when they were married.
“I’m really worried about him. It’s no place for a 4-year-old autistic boy,” he said.
The U.S. State Department was arranging in recent weeks to have the U.S Embassy do a “welfare check” on Xavier, but McKeighan said he had not heard the results.
Olga McKeighan refuses to respond to phone calls or other attempts to reach her. The only phone number McKeighan has is for her parents’ home, and her mother answers the phone when any American calls, yells in Russian and hangs up, he said.
Corey McKeighan said acting Family Court Judge Jeffrey Wait brokered the custody agreement that allowed her to take his son to Krasnoyarsk, a city of 1 million people in the Siberian province of southeastern Russia.
He has mulled taking the law into his own hands, but knows that could make a bad situation worse.
“Unfortunately, I just can’t go there and try to bring him back. I will wind up in jail, or worse,” he said. “She (Olga) told me it wouldn’t go well for me.”
The case is now before Judge Paulette Kershko, as McKeighan seeks full custody of his son. The process began Oct. 11, and McKeighan is awaiting a ruling on how his ex-wife can be served with paperwork in Russia. Being granted full custody could help legally if he can find assistance abroad.
Warren County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said the Sheriff’s Office is investigating a missing person report filed by McKeighan, and depending on what becomes of a Family Court case, may be able to file criminal charges against Olga McKeighan. A parent who takes a child without permission could be charged with misdemeanor or felony custodial interference.
Xavier McKeighan is considered a missing person and as such he would be detained should his mother try to enter another country with him, Stockdale said.
But there is no ability to force her to return Xavier, or extradite her from Russia to face whatever criminal charges could be filed, Stockdale explained. And charges could be a “double-edged sword” that deter the mother from returning voluntarily.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do at this point,” he said.
The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is a compact between 75 nations who agree to return children to their custodial parents in these situations, but Russia isn’t a treaty “partner” with the U.S., according to the State Department’s website. McKeighan said he is hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump can improve relations with Russia so the countries will abide by the treaty.
McKeighan has been in frequent contact with federal legislators, including U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and they have been good at keeping the U.S. State Department involved, he said.
Virginia Elliot, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State, said the agency was trying to help McKeighan, but she declined to give specifics.
“We are aware of this international parental child abduction case. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance,” she wrote in an email. “The Bureau of Consular Affairs, along with our embassies and consulates, works with parents and foreign governments to try to resolve these difficult cases. Generally speaking, in cases involving international parent child abductions, a U.S. embassy or consulate can facilitate contact with local authorities, provide information on local judicial and law enforcement processes, offer a list of attorneys and translators, and issue passports or other travel documents as appropriate under U.S law.”
McKeighan, though, said the efforts have not led to much progress. He is trying to hire a lawyer with experience in similar international cases, possibly in Russia, but hasn’t been able to come up with the money needed.
A page on the online fundraising website Go Fund Me has been set up to help McKeighan with legal fees. Updates on the situation can be found on Facebook at “Bring Xavier Home.”