Czech Constitutional Court rules against sending ten-year-old boy to psychiatric facility due to custody battle

03-08-2011

The Czech Constitutional Court has just issued a verdict in favor of a mother fighting to prevent her ten-year-old son – a perfectly healthy boy -from being returned to a psychiatric hospital. The boy had already spent six months there during his parents’ custody battle on the basis of a previous court ruling. The court dealt with the case at the instigation of the boy’s father who demanded that the boy be taken from his mother’s care because she was biased against him and was having a bad influence on the child.

Illustrative photoIllustrative photo “Are you relieved?” “Of course.” – this was the monosyllabic response that the mother of ten-year-old Alan gave the press after a verdict in her favor was issued by the Czech Constitutional Court. She had been fighting to overturn a ruling by a regional court in Ostrava that would have again sent her son into a psychiatric facility. Previously, he had already spent six months there during the custody battle between her and the boy’s father, who appealed a lower court’s decision and, in an effort to minimize the mother’s influence on the child, had him sent to what he said was a “neutral environment.”

After overturning the verdict, Constitutional Court judge Vladimír Kůrka had this to say.

Vladimír KůrkaVladimír Kůrka ”We believe the court failed to consider the adequacy or suitability of sending a child to such an environment, to a psychiatric hospital.”

After the boy was released from the hospital following a court order, his father appealed the ruling, forcing the mother to go into hiding to prevent her child from being taken back to the facility. However, another court ruled that the child should return to the institution. The mother finally took the case to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in her favor. But how could a Czech court issue such an unqualified verdict in the first place? I put the question to Zuzana Baudyšová, the director of the Our Child foundation.

Zuzana BaudyšováZuzana Baudyšová “The court argued that by being in a psychiatric ward, the boy would be removed from the mother’s influence, who the father claimed was trying to turn the child against him. The saddest thing was that the boy was not once asked during the year-and-a-half custody battle whether he wanted to stay with his mother, his father, or have both of them take turns. So no one gave him a chance to voice his opinion.”

Part of the problem is the lack of qualified foster families or other institutions where children whose parents are in the middle of a messy custody battle can stay. I asked Mrs. Baudyšová if there were any other incidents in which such a child ended up in a psychiatric facility.

“I would say that such cases are on the rise, since the divorce rate in this country is nearing 50 percent and there are a lot of parents fighting over custody rights. There was another case of a young girl who was sent to a psychiatric ward four years ago for several months. This is not a good solution for any child that has no psychological problems: those institutions treat children with schizophrenia and other serious conditions and a stay in such a facility will definitely harm rather than help a healthy child.”

One measure that may help alleviate this situation would be the implementation of full-time foster families, an adequate environment for children to stay during a custody battle. In March of this year, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs announced that it would support an expanded network of foster families as part of a reform that is currently being prepared. Until then, one can only hope that the recent ruling of the Constitutional Court has established a precedent for similar cases.

03-08-2011