Agony of Cambridge graduate as court rules her twins must live with estranged husband in Vienna because ‘he is a better parent’
- Beth Schlesinger, 29, can only see her sons for 20 hours a fortnight
- An Austrian court ruled that her husband is a ‘better parent’
- Dr Michael Schlesinger told the court Beth was mentally ill
- Vienna court dismissed claims, but still gave him full custody
By John Stevens
Eight months after meeting and falling in love with an Austrian doctor, Cambridge graduate Beth Schlesinger abandoned her career and moved to Vienna to marry him.
When the marriage began to go wrong, she agreed to try to patch things up by starting a family and they had twin sons.
But rows over the children drove them further apart – and now she has lost custody of the four-year-old boys after an Austrian court ruled that her husband is a better parent.
Last night Mrs Schlesinger, 29, said she feels marooned in a foreign country and added: ‘I don’t know how a court can believe it is better for such young children to be with their father instead of their mother.
‘It is breaking my heart being allowed to see them for just a few hours a week.’
Mrs Schlesinger, a solicitor’s daughter from Manchester, gave up her place on a master’s course at a New York university after she fell in love with society doctor Michael Schlesinger.
Aged 22, she moved to Vienna to marry him despite protests from her parents and being unable to speak any German.
But, she said, the relationship began to wane after only a week.
She claims he became so controlling he would not even let her go to the toilet at night.
After they separated and started a custody battle over the children, Dr Schlesinger, 33, unsuccessfully attempted to have his wife sectioned.
His claims that she had mental illness were dismissed in court, but an Austrian judge still took the rare step of giving him sole custody of the twins.
Mrs Schlesinger has visitation rights but can see her sons Samuel and Benjamin for only 20 hours a fortnight.
She has accused the court of unfairly favouring her ‘well-connected’ husband and has begun an appeal with the Austrian high court.
And Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton in Manchester, has raised concerns with the Austrian ambassador about the way the case was handled.
Mrs Schlesinger said: ‘I gave up my own life and now I feel stranded and alone in a strange country. With the language barrier and my husband’s superior contacts it feels like I stand no chance.
‘But I can’t give up. I have to keep going, if not for me then for my boys. They need their mother.’
Mrs Schlesinger, who read Oriental Studies at Girton College, met her future husband on a trip to Paris in 2006.
She said: ‘It all seemed very romantic and a big adventure, but the marriage was terrible from the beginning.
‘Looking back I realise that I never really knew Michael. I was so naive and I fell for him as he was very charming and seemed like a caring, trustworthy person. I was so wrong.’
She claimed that they argued constantly about what their sons ate, how they dressed, when they slept and how long they could spend in the bath.
In February 2010, after a row over how much milk the boys could have, Mrs Schlesinger called police and spent the night at a women’s refuge, saying she feared for her safety.
After her husband began legal action to win custody of the children a psychologist who prepared a report for the court declared Mrs Schlesinger had ‘reduced child raising capabilities’ and was paranoid.
Two further psychological reports presented at later hearings found she did not have mental health issues. But Dr Schlesinger was awarded full custody of the twins.
Mrs Schlesinger claims her estranged husband has been favoured by the Austrian legal system because of his well-respected profession. The case has been reported to Austria’s judicial ombudsman and she has started an appeal claiming the judge was not impartial and that the procedures did not follow due process.
Last night Dr Schlesinger was unavailable for comment.