September 2, 2004 in City

Woman granted divorce after long court battles

By The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane-area woman who fled Greece to escape a husband she said was abusive is free of him after four years of court battles.

Kristi Tsarbopoulos, 39, won an uphill, 1 1/2-year battle in federal courts to retain custody of her three young children. Then she found getting a divorce could be just as difficult.

One trial court declined to grant a divorce, citing jurisdictional problems. Another granted a divorce by default when Anthony Tsarbopoulos failed to appear, but reversed itself when he later objected that he didn’t receive adequate notice.

The state Court of Appeals in Spokane ruled this week that leaving a summons with one of Anthony Tsarbopoulos’ co-workers in Athens was sufficient. The appellate court reinstated the divorce decree issued in Spokane County Superior Court in August 2002.

The decree requires Anthony Tsarbopoulos to pay $2,599 a month in child support and $10,000 in attorney fees and to split a joint investment account with his wife. It also restricts his contact with his children.

The couple married in 1986, when Anthony Tsarbopoulos was a naturalized American living in the United States. Their three children – Harilaos, Ioanna and Iason – all were born in the United States. Their chemist father worked for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Schering-Plough Research Institute in Kenilworth, N.J.

The family moved to Athens in September 1997 for what Kristi Tsarbopoulos said she thought was to be a temporary job to advance her husband’s career. Instead, she said, he decided to remain in his native country, and became emotionally and physically abusive.

Kristi Tsarbopoulos said her husband battered her and their children, but Greek police refused to take action.

Greek law required her husband’s approval for their children, who had joint Greek and U.S. citizenship, to leave Greece. So she and her parents, Colbert residents Ron and Kathy McHaney, sneaked the children out with a ruse that counted on lax airport controls.

A few months later, in April 2000, U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald ordered the children back to Greece under a treaty governing international custody disputes.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed McDonald and ordered a retrial in which U.S. District Judge Edward Shea sided with Kristi Tsarbopoulos.

Her divorce petitions in Spokane County Superior Court followed a similarly bumpy path. When the first was rejected on jurisdictional grounds, Kristi Tsarbopoulos hired a Greek attorney who sent a process server to deliver a summons.

The process server left the summons with one of Anthony Tsarbopoulos’ colleagues in a bioanalytical laboratory at the Goulandris National History Museum.

The Spokane County court granted a default divorce in September 2002 when Anthony Tsarbopoulos failed to answer the summons. But the court reversed itself in July 2003 after Tsarbopoulos objected that he wasn’t given adequate notice under Greek or Washington law.

Judge Paul Bastine ruled the notice inadequate under Washington law, and said conflicting testimony made it impossible to determine whether it was adequate under Greek law.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting Washington law says a summons may be served according to another country’s laws as long as the procedure is “reasonably calculated to give actual notice.”

A three-judge panel said there was undisputed evidence that Greek law allows a summons to be left with a worker’s boss, colleague or subordinate. The panel also rejected the claim of Anthony Tsarbopoulos’ attorney that the man who accepted the disputed summons wasn’t a colleague.

In fact, the Appeals Court said, the evidence showed the man was a pharmacist who answered to Tsarbopoulos and had co-authored several research articles with him and given joint presentations at conferences.

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