Fate of child caught up in a messy divorce case shocks nation

Tereza's mother Marketa Smutna, photo: CTK

Cases of children caught up in messy divorces abound, but none has shocked the nation so profoundly as that of ten year old Tereza Smutna. After eight years of court battles over custody rights in which neither parent was prepared to give way the child was sent to a mental institution – not because of any health problems but to isolate her from mother. The “therapy” failed and now Tereza’s fate is once again hanging in the balance.

Tereza's mother Marketa Smutna, photo: CTK
Tereza’s parents divorced when she was barely two years old. She is now ten and throughout her entire young life her parents have fought battles over custody rights. Although from the start she has lived with her mother, her father has repeatedly attacked the decision in court insisting that his ex-wife is poisoning his daughter’s mind against him. Although he is entitled to spend time with her Tereza does not wish to see him and has emotional outbursts whenever she is made to go. Her mother says that because he left when she was still a baby –he is a virtual stranger to her and she is afraid of him. After endless disputes, in the summer of this year a judge sent Terezka to a mental institution where psychologists could work with her without the influence of her mother. Her mother faced the media in tears:

“The idea that anyone could place a healthy child in a mental institution….I would never have believed that such a thing could happen.”

Her parents are still fighting and the court is now to decide whether she should be sent back to the welfare facility for several months or put in her father’s care in order to give him a chance to develop a normal relationship with her. Tereza dreads the verdict and people are asking just how much children like her should have to go through. Zuzana Baudysova, head of the Our Child Foundation, says that the ones who need help in this case are the parents rather than the child.

“It was not a good solution or a good verdict, because a psychiatric clinic is for mentally handicapped children, not for a healthy child. Isolating the child is not a good solution. The only viable solution can come from the parents coming to a sensible agreement. And I am very disappointed that the parents are so selfish and have so little regard and understanding for their child.”

This is a view that most psychologists support but unless the parents themselves are ready to consider their daughter’s best interests the judge may once again decide in favour of sending her back to the children’s recovery centre for a period of several months. If there is anything positive about this tragic family drama it is that the hundreds of people who are in the process of separating and divorcing can see how very wrong things can go for their children.