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Flipping through photographs of his son Brendan, Brian McGinley smiles as he shares stories of trips to Wildwood, ice skating at Pershing Field and visiting the Intrepid.
McGinley, 45, of Jersey City, explains that even though he was an avid Rangers fan and grew up across the street from Pershing Field, he did not learn to ice skate until Brendan was born in July 1998.
But the happy memories abruptly stop in Christmas 2005, when McGinley's ex-wife Monika McGinley Mikeczova took their son Brendan to Slovakia - and never returned.
Brendan turns 12 this year.
McGinley, a supervisor for NJ Transit's Hudson/Bergen Light Rail who had visited his ex-wife's family in Slovakia, allowed Mikeczova to take their son to visit family over Christmas break.
At the time, the couple had been divorced three years and living separately. But McGinley said his wife had taken his son to visit relatives before and returned.
He still remembers receiving her phone call Jan. 4, 2006 saying she wasn't coming back.
"I was heartbroken," he said.
McGinley said the Hague Convention, an international treatise that governs international parent child abductions, failed him.
Although Hague mandates that cases be heard immediately, McGinley didn't get his first court date in Slovakia until September 2006. He won the right to bring Brendan back to New Jersey. But Mikeczova appealed and got to keep Brendan during that process.
In June 2007 the appeal was heard and McGinley again won, but Mikeczova filed yet another appeal.
In February 2008, McGinley said the case went to Slovakia's Supreme Court, which interviewed Brendan and allowed him to decide which parent he wanted to live with. After two years in Slovakia, Brendan chose his mother.
"It's supposed to work expeditiously. They dragged it out for two plus years," he said. "Of course he's going to say he wants to live with his mom. He hasn't seen me in two years."
The decision devastated McGinley.
"I just don't want Brendan to feel that I didn't turn over every stone," he said.
The last time he spoke to his son was in July, when he called to wish Brendan a happy birthday. Otherwise McGinley said Mikeczova's family doesn't answer the phone when he or his family call.
McGinley recently received Slovakian court documents and was contacted by the federal State Department that informed him that his ex-wife is pursuing child support through the Slovakian courts.
McGinley said he plans to file his own paperwork, seeking parental rights to his son, whether that comes in the form of phone calls or visitation.
McGinley's situation is not unique.
Jeremy Morley, a New York attorney specializing in international divorce and familiar with McGinley's case, said he works on hundreds of abduction cases a year.
"It's very common," he said. "Here in the tri-state area, there are so many marriages where people are from different countries. When relationships break down, parents want to 'go home' with a kid. Often that means the other parent is deprived of the child."
He said about 80 countries have signed on to the Hague Convention. Some, such asCanada and Australia, are very good about abiding by the rules, but others, he said, including Slovakia, Honduras and Brazil, don't abide by it.
"Just because countries sign the convention doesn't mean they'll abide by their treaty obligations," he said. "Quite a number of them don't."
McGinley understands that he is out of options under Hague but hopes that sharing his story will help others.
"Even if I could prevent somebody else from maybe having this happen to them, I've got to believe there's something positive," he said. "Nobody can repay me for those years I've lost with Brendan."