ADRIAN, Mich. -

The father of three Michigan boys missing since Thanksgiving says he's unable to turn over the children to their mother.

John Skelton appeared Friday for a brief court hearing as part of his divorce case. The judge asked him whether he was prepared to give the children to their mother, and he answered: "I can't."

A pre-trial hearing is March 18.

Skelton is charged with parental kidnapping in the disappearance. They were last seen were at his home in Morenci along the Michigan-Ohio state line.

Watch: Tanya Skelton Interview Part 1: Tanya Skelton Interview Part 2: Tanya Skelton Interview Part 3: Tanya Skelton Interview Part 4:

He said during a custody hearing in December that he gave his sons to someone from an "organization."

Authorities and volunteers searched for the boys in Ohio and Michigan. A police chief leading the effort has said he didn't expect a positive outcome.