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May 22, 2014 12:19 am

U.K. Chief Rabbi Assails Austrian Courts Over Schlessinger Twins Case

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Beth Schlesinger and her children. Photo: Helpbeth.org.

Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis on Tuesday criticized Austrian Courts for their “unusual decision” to deny a British-Jewish woman custody of her twin sons.

Beth Schlesinger (nee Alexander) lost sole guardianship of her 4-year-old twin boys Samuel and Benjamin in July 2011, and her appeal to Austria’s Supreme Court was rejected in January with a one-word response that read “refused.”

A judge in an Austrian family court granted Dr. Michael Schlesinger, the father of the twins and Beth’s ex-husband, full custody despite local social services recommendations to the contrary, The Jerusalem Post reported. The judge’s decision went against a previous ruling of an appeals court that denied Michael’s appeal against an earlier custody award to Beth.

The couple married in October 2006 and when they separated in 2009, both parents applied for sole custody of their children.

In a letter seen by The Algemeiner, Mirvis said the latest court ruling, which limited Beth’s visiting rights, has been hard for the mother of two and that he is concerned about the children’s well-being.

“The court’s unusual decision to deprive a mother of the right to raise her children, coupled with the limited access that she has to her children, which is sometimes denied to her, has placed a significant restraint on Mrs. Schlesinger,” Mirvis wrote. “More significantly, I am concerned about reports that suggest that the twins’ growth and development are suffering, while the mother is not included in any way in matters relating to her children’s health, welfare and education.”

“I would ask that all concerned should address the best interests of the children and consider ways to build a better future for the boys,” he added.

Before announcing its decision, the family court heard evidence from police, paramedics and a police psychiatrist who confirmed that Beth is mentally stable, The Jerusalem Post reported. However, the judge relied on a court psychologist’s report that said the Jewish mother was mentally ill, although the assessment was later refuted by another court psychiatrist who said Beth never suffered from mental illness.

Beth’s family has campaigned on her behalf for custody of her sons to be returned, and she has received the support of British parliament members as well as the British Board of Deputies and the Manchester Beis Din. A website for the “Help Beth and Her Boys” campaign says it aims to “save 2 innocent children whose lives have been turned upside down by a scandalous and unjust Austrian court ruling.”

After the final court ruling, the British Members of Parliament attacked the Austrian justice system and the rulings made by various judges including Judge Susanne Göttlicher, who awarded custody to the father. MPs called the case a “miscarriage of justice” while one claimed that “corruption” was the main factor behind the judge’s decisions, The Jerusalem Post noted.

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