TRANSLATION KURIER ARTICLE
Monday 3rd December 2012
Children taken after Psychologist report
New Case: Beth Schlesinger’s sons may not live with her. The grounds for which: a psychologist report
On 25 July 2011, Rebecca “Beth” Schlesinger had her three year-old twin boys, Samuel and Benjamin taken from her. The reason: A psychological report that was commissioned by the court to assess her child raising capabilities. This report concluded that the 28-year-old English citizen was “impaired in her attention span and thinking,” demonstrated “lack of cognitive flexibility,” as well as “an increased level of distrustful information processing;” serious psychological abnormalities. Schlesinger’s child raising competence was therefore deemed reduced. On that basis, the father was awarded custody.
After seeking the private opinion of another psychiatrist, Gabriele Wörgötter, who concluded that Beth Schlesinger was perfectly sound of mind, the court commissioned a new report. In the third report, the Cambridge graduate was not diagnosed with any form of mental illness. On the contrary: “(…) I conclude that neither at the time of the examination nor at any time in the past has Ms. Rebecca Schlesinger suffered from any form of mental illness.”
Three reports now lie before the judge. Two are positive for Beth Schlesinger. The judge has not yet reacted to the new report – no hearing dates have been scheduled. Beth Schlesinger only sees her sons about once a week at the moment.
“It is all so absurd. The children are not doing well with their father. They hardly speak, they are disturbed,” explains the 28 year old. In total, her husband has cancelled 38 visits. She will not give up. “I want my boys back. This is hell on earth.”
INTERVIEW. MONIKA PINTERITS
“It’s like looking into a crystal ball,” says “Monika Pinterits, Children’s and Youth Advocate, who criticizes the practices of court psychologists in child custody proceedings
Often, individual psychologists’ opinions determine in the courts which parent will be awarded custody of children. It repeatedly happens that different psychologists arrive at totally conflicting conclusions. Often, psychologists diagnose mental illness or deficiencies which are totally refuted by a second opinion.
Monika Pinterits speaks about ‘many such cases.’ KURIER reported the case of Alexandra L, who was falsely diagnosed as depressive and delusional. A private report concluded that she was perfectly healthy. Nevertheless, the father was awarded full custody. Now there is a further case. (Beth Schlesinger).
KURIER: You criticize the practice of psychologists in child custody proceedings. Why?
Monika Pinterits: My comments are based on the current situation of these reports. We need a debate about whether these psychologist reports on their own should really be used by judges as the basis of their custody decisions.
In what way?
I think that the psychologist reports are relied upon too heavily. The judges think they are on the safe side (by following the recommendations of the reports). What I am currently experiencing are cases in which people are suddenly diagnosed with personality disorders.
Can you describe a specific case?
For example, I witnessed a case in which there were three different opinions. The first report claimed: the mother had a personality disorder – the child must be given to the father. Then there followed a further psychiatric assessment. The expert concluded: no personality disorder. The third report said: Both parents were competent in child raising and should be awarded joint custody.
How does this come about?
There are no uniform standards by which a person’s child-raising competence can be examined. For example, it often happens that someone is first examined by a psychologist, then has another report commissioned by a psychiatrist who totally undermines the first report.
Was it different before?
Previously, the reports were not attributed as much significance as they are today. They were considered as just one part of the total evidence. Now I have the impression that judges only take the psychologist report into consideration when making their decisions, above all other evidence. Lawyers prepare their clients beforehand exactly how to behave during the assessment. Many practice the tests in advance. The problem is, that the more eloquent person is judged more favourably. Many psychologists diagnose personality disorders which cannot be medically confirmed. That cannot be.
There is also talk of a “market”, as more and more psychologists are trying to jump on the bandwagon?
I personally, see it differently. I know psychologists who refuse to do undertake any more assessments because it is very expensive if you do it properly. There are also reports commissioned on only one parent and not the other. This is wrong.
Is it true that the parent with more money is in a better position? Not every parent can afford to commission a second, private opinion because they cannot afford the high cost.
Yes, I would say so. Therefore, discussions are underway to set up centres where the validity of these reports can be assessed. I hope that child custody proceedings will be taken away from the hands of the courts. The current procedure does not alleviate the problems; on the contrary, the courts just escalate the conflicts.
What do you suggest specifically?
I would like the psychologists, as well as the judges and other professionals to get together to discuss how and under whose technical expertise, custody decisions can be made. Psychologists must be very careful, because the life of a person rests on their decision. Judges must also learn to ask the right questions. When they ask, “will there still be contact a year from now (to the other parent)?’ the answer really lies in a crystal ball and prediction theories. That has nothing to do with professionalism.