ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The St. Louis County family courts can be an emotional venue for child custody battles. Multiple women are making their cases public to shine a light on a system they claim is all about the money.
Cortney Nolan said her contentious divorce costs upwards of a "million dollars." Much of that money was spent on attorneys, but she also said she spent tens of thousands on fees she didn't expect. Nolan claims she was ordered to see Dr. James Reid for a mental assessment during her custody battle. Reid is a licensed psychologist in St. Louis County.
She said she didn't have a say in the matter and "that was a motion filed by opposing council and they selected him." During her assessments with Reid, Nolan claims she was given written tests including one known as the MMPI or the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It's a psychological test that assesses personality traits and psychopathology. Nolan said one of them "probably had 500 questions."
According to Dr. James Butcher, a retired psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, the MMPI test is an objective test. Butcher spent his career studying the MMPI test and said the results can "suggest diagnosis" for various personality disorders.
Nolan said she was under the impression her written tests did not reveal anything extraordinary, but she was diagnosed with multiple disorders. She said she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline and narcissistic.
"It was purely subjective," Nolan said. "It was given by Dr. Reid. He said there was no way those tests could have been right and made reference that I cheated on the test."
Evita Tolu says she can relate to Nolan's situation and added, "I was completely naïve." Tolu also saw Dr. Reid during her child custody battle. She said she was referred to Reid by her guardian ad litem, Elaine Pudlowski. A guardian ad litem (GAL) is hired by both parties in a child custody battle to look out for the best interest of the children.
Like Nolan, Tolu's diagnosis surprised her. "I was diagnosed as a sociopath," Tolu said. "I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder." Tolu said Dr. Reid did not explain how he arrived at the decision, but said, "we called him for a deposition. He could only tell us that was his subjective opinion."
When asked if Tolu was ever diagnosed with a personality disorder in the past she said "I've never heard of some of them."
Both women say the court-ordered therapy was not only emotionally stressful, but financially stressful as well. According to court filings, Tolu and her ex were billed $30,000 by Reid, another $5,000 to depose him and nearly $3,000 so Tolu could obtain a copy of her file.
Nolan claims she spent $35,000 with Reid, another $50,000 hiring experts to challenge him, and then nearly $17,000 to depose Reid.
Tim Roldan represents Tolu and has filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Elaine Pudlowski, Dr. James Reid, and another therapist named Jennifer Van Luven. According to Roldan, Van Luven was hired to work with Tolu's children.
"We have alleged in general as a lay person term malpractice, each one of them in different areas," Roldan said.
According to the lawsuit, Dr. Reid released Tolu's report to Pudlowski, and Pudlowski filed a motion to limit release of that report. Roldan is accusing Pudlowski of sharing Tolu's diagnosis with Van Luven, the therapist seeing Tolu's children.
According to the lawsuit, Van Luven, "discussed the custody case in great detail" and "shared adult information" with both children and discussed Reid's diagnosis.
The lawsuit claims Tolu addressed the issue with Pudlowski. According to the lawsuit, Pudlowski stated that according to Van Luven, the children discussed the contents of the Reid report. The lawsuit also says Pudlowski failed to address Tolu's concerns in "any meaningful way."
Tolu claims the impact was so detrimental she no longer has a relationship with her children.
The lawsuit has caught the attention of those who work within the St. Louis County Family Court system. During a recent zoom meeting, approximately three dozen GALs (guardian ad litem) discussed the legal challenge facing Pudlowski. The zoom call was recorded and anonymously posted to YouTube.
Sarah Pleban who also works as a GAL stated during the meeting, "one of the things I know is we all have each other’s backs." Pudlowski briefly spoke about her legal challenge and said, "my motion to dismiss is basically about judicial immunity, quasi-judicial immunity."
As the meeting progressed the various GALs offered financial support to Pudlowski. It was also revealed there can be challenges to finding therapists like Dr. Reid to evaluate people like Nolan and Tolu.
Pleban said, "we don't have many people to do custody evaluations. The pool is this deep, so I'm sure everybody has some pros and cons about Jim Reid, but he is one of the substantial ones. If he's knocked, or if says like Elaine does, and Jen's getting ready to do. I don't want to do this anymore it's not worth it then where are we?"
Pudlowski stated, "I already have tons of people that won't call me back. I don't take it personally, but when I call, 'I've got a case are you interested?' No, no, no, no. No one is going to if I mention the last couple of cases I referred people they got sued on, that's a problem."
As for people like Nolan, she recommends couples find an amicable way to settle their divorce outside of the confines of family court. She said court-ordered therapy did nothing to help her emotional or financial well-being.
"Ultimately it was the two of us coming back together and saying take them all out of it. This has been a nightmare," Nolan said. "Let's come together for the kids. Let's get on the same page, with a different way of doing it, with the same goals in mind and we settled it."
Pudlowski’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss Tolu's lawsuit. The attorney added, "We are eager to argue our motions. As to many specific allegations in the lawsuit or the questions posed in your email it is my policy not to discuss such matters while litigation is pending."
Dr. Reid did not respond to News 4's request for comment, neither did Jennifer Van Luven. Both parties have also filed a motion to dismiss Tolu's lawsuit. As for Sarah Pleban, she did return an initial phone call, but did not return a follow-up call.
At this point every judge in the 21st judicial circuit has recused themselves from hearing Tolu's case. The case will now be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court for reassignment.
The ex-husband of Tolu reached out to News 4 prior to the airing of the story. He said he believes the money spent with Dr. Reid was well-spent, and only totaled a small fraction of the overall money spent during the custody battle. Tolu's ex-husband said he believes Reid's report ultimately protected him and the couple's two children.