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Warring parents who have hardly said a word to each other in the two years since the breakdown of their marriage have been urged by a senior family judge to topple their wall of silence and stop ‘dumping their dirty linen’ on their three young children.
The ex-couple’s near total lack of communication was wreaking havoc on the lives of their children, two boys, aged 15 and 13, and a girl, aged eight. The boys, who were living with their father, had refused to have even the most minimal contact with their mother and only saw their sister, who lived with her mother, on Sundays.
Urging the parents to re-open lines of communication for the sake of their children, Mr Justice Peter Jackson noted that the little girl was currently ‘the only person who is willing to speak to everybody’ in the family and that that was ‘a lot to ask’ of one so young.
The parents’ 14-year marriage had ended ‘in circumstances of great distress for all concerned’ and social services had been heavily involved in dealing with the family breakdown. Following the split, a judge directed contact in a way designed to enable all the siblings to see each other and both parents. However, those arrangements had broken down due to the parents’ inability to speak to each other.
Expressing concern that the little girl might be ‘sucked into’ the poisonous family dynamic, Mr Justice Jackson said that the only ray of hope was that the parents now agreed that ‘something ought to be done’ and both supported attempts to re-establish the relationship between the boys and their mother.
Encouraging the ex-couple to engage in mediation, he added, “I do not, in any way, minimise the difficulties that existed in this marriage but there must come a time when the parents find a way of living with that and doing their best for these children…I would expect an ability to communicate in a practical manner, avoiding recrimination and gratuitous references to irrelevant grievances.”
He rejected the father’s arguments that his daughter should live with him and her brothers. However, he directed that that she should continue to spend Sundays with her father and that he should collect her from outside her mother’s house, ‘not using the boys as go-betweens’.
Emphasising that the children’s welfare was his ‘paramount consideration’, the judge said he would be happy if the girl’s ‘enjoyable’ contact with her father and brothers were increased over time. However, he added, “I am quite clear that nothing much can change in the arrangements for the children while the relationship between the parents remains in its current shape. I think it unlikely that the boys will feel able to engage at all with their mother until they see their father doing so.”
Taking a light touch approach to the case, the judge concluded, “I do not consider that it is in the interests of any of these children to make a defined contact order. I have to be satisfied that it is more in their interests to make an order than not to make an order. It is really up to the parents.”