Brian Meid with his son Alex, now 5, who was taken to China by his mom almost a year ago. (Photo: Brian Meid)
It’s been nearly a year since Brian Meid, a Utah information technology worker and former U.S. Marine, waved goodbye to his son Alex at the airport. The boy, then 4, was on his way to China with his mother — Meid’s ex-wife Yu Na — to visit family in his mom’s homeland. They were due to return in 45 days, but never made it back.
Meid knew right then that his biggest fear had come true: Yu Na had successfully carried out an international parental abduction.
“I took them to the airport, and I feel like a complete buffoon for letting that happen,” Meid, 34, tells Yahoo Parenting, his voice thick with guilt. “She was much more conniving than I gave her credit for.”
Thus began Meid’s new reality: spending every bit of energy on trying to bring his son back home from Dalian, Yu Na’s hometown, where the two have been living with her parents since May 2014. It’s been a frustrating, labyrinthine, upsetting fight, and has so far involved the U.S. State Department, the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Chinese Central Authority, assorted lawyers, and a Netherlands-based mediation firm, all to no avail.
Meid’s efforts have put him into severe debt, as he’s already spent more than $50,000 fighting for Alex’s return (in addition to about $58,000 for his divorce), wiping out his retirement account. Now he’s launched an online Crowd Rise campaign, hoping to raise enough money to continue his legal battle. But the emotional part has been the roughest — particularly since Meid has seen Alex just briefly during this whole time, for a few days in October, when he went to see his son for what’s been their only visit since Yu Na (known in the U.S. as “Nina”) took him to China.
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“I hugged him before I left, I was holding him in my arms and saying goodbye,” Meid recalls. “It was the most stressful, difficult thing I ever had to do in my life. I feel like an idiot, like I let her play me.” About how living without Alex has affected his existence, he says, “This impacts me every single day.”
Alex Meid, just four days before he was taken to China. (Photo: Brian Meid)
Knowing exactly where his son is and not being able to do anything about it has been particularly difficult. Sometimes, Meid says, Yu Na allows him to Skype with Alex. “I tell him I love him, I miss him, that I hope he can come soon,” Meid says, adding that Alex no longer speaks English, and appears to only be interested in watching TV and playing games on his iPad, even when they are on a Skype call together. He worries about how Yu Na has explained his absence to Alex, and about how he doesn’t seem to be attending school.
Yu Na did not respond to an email from Yahoo Parenting requesting her side of the story.
“It’s awful, this poor little kid,” Jill Coil, Meid’s Utah-based divorce attorney, tells Yahoo Parenting. She explains that while allowing Yu Na to travel to China with her son was a stipulation that they eventually agreed to in the divorce agreement, it was one she and Meid had great reservations about. “This was definitely a big fear of his, but his ex-wife wasn’t going to stop fighting for it. So it was either we go to trial fighting it all the way for $25,000, or come up with something we felt was safe enough.”
So they put safeguards in place, Coil explains, which included having Yu Na sign a notarized statement saying that Alex was a U.S. citizen and that he was to be raised in Utah; requiring that she purchase a round-trip ticket for their travel; having her put up the title of her car as collateral; and also requiring that Alex a temporary visa which would expire (which it has). Now, she says, “My client has spent so much money and has tried everything, and everyone has left him hanging.”
The crux of the problem with getting help from officials in this case is the involvement of China, which is not a party to the Hague Abduction Convention — a treaty that many countries have joined in order to provide a shared civil remedy among partner countries to work toward the best interest of an abducted child.
Brian Meid with Yu Na and Alex, before the divorce. (Photo: Brian Meid)
“Unfortunately, for some of the non-Hague countries, there may be some challenges and difficulties,” Maureen Head, a supervisor in the missing children division of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, tells Yahoo Parenting. One problem, she says, is that those countries, including China, won’t recognize U.S. custody orders. Other challenges: Filing international abduction charges against Yu Na with the Justice Department could potentially force her into hiding, Meid says he was advised, while enforcement would be difficult since there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China. But all cases vary wildly, she says, and even when they seem hopeless, things can turn on a dime.
“I’ve seen situations in which it seemed nothing can be done, but things change day to day,” she says. “The parent may want to negotiate, the parent may want to come back, the parent may want to travel.”
In March, the FBI was able to stop an attempted parental abduction to China when the dad, in the U.S., alerted authorities that his wife had just boarded an airplane to China with their 4-year-old son (he had been alerted via email by his wife). The plane was turned around four hours into its journey from Washington D.C. and the boy’s mother was arrested; she now faces up to three years in prison. “That father doesn’t know how lucky he is,” Meid says.
Like the parents in that thwarted kidnapping case, Meid and his ex-wife have joint legal custody of their child. But now he and Coil have submitted a petition to modify that decision; to have Yu Na served with that petition, they’ve had to go through the Chinese Central Authority, and are prepared for it to take up to nine months. If Yu Na doesn’t respond within the required 20 days, Meid can get a sole custody order — but China may or may not accept it.
Meid met Yu Na in 2003 in Tokyo, where he was on vacation while was stationed in the Marine Corps in Okinawa, and Yu Na, a Chinese national, was attending college on a student visa. The two became a couple and Meid got a job at a naval base off the coast of Tokyo; they eventually married, having Alex (on U.S. military property, making him an American citizen) in 2009. The family relocated to Utah when Meid found an IT job there in 2012.
From there, the situation began to devolve. There were disagreements about how to raise Alex, particularly around medical issues and Yu Na’s beliefs that their son needed a battery of tests and Chinese herbal treatments. “She was like a hypochondriac, but for him,” Meid explains.
He filed for divorce — as well as a police report and an order of protection — when he says Yu Na tried to stab him. Later, after they were separated, local police charged her for child neglect after a neighbor reported Alex walking alone in a busy street while Yu Na was out grocery shopping. (Meid provided Yahoo Parenting with documents relating to each incident.) Meid said that once Yu Na had gone to China, she told him the child neglect charges made her afraid to come back to the U.S.; he convinced police to drop the charges, but Yu Na remained where she was.
“That’s when I realized — it doesn’t matter what I say or do,” says Meid, who is not willing to move to China. “She’s only convinced with what’s best for her, not our son.”
These days, he’s moving forward as best as he can. But he misses the time he’d spend with Alex. “We’d play Legos and Hot Wheels and go to the playground and the museum,” Meid says. “Every Saturday was our day.” Now the dad finds weekends particularly lonely, especially if he stays at home, where Alex’s room is set up and waiting for him, and where still-boxed Christmas presents for his son sit in the basement. “I will never give up this fight,” he says.