Small tragedies

Russell Wangersky
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Sometimes, a judge writes such plain language that it takes no cleaning up, and turns into something we can all think about.

This is part of a custody case — it doesn’t matter from where.

What does matter is that there were two sons from the marriage, now aged 15 and 13, and an eight-year-old daughter. And, when you read through it, the sparse prose spells out a life for those three children that seems too much to bear.

“I adjourned until this week in order to see the boys. That happened this morning. I spent three-quarters of an hour with them and related to the parents the discussion that had taken place in which both (boys) politely but firmly declined any suggestion that they might like to engage in even the most minimal level of contact with their mother.

“This is an application concerning children and of course their welfare, individually and collectively, is my paramount consideration. I am not sure that the parents fully realize how abnormal the situation of their children is. In April 2012, this marriage broke down in circumstances of great distress for all concerned. The mother has, on her own admission, engaged in an extramarital affair pursued over the years from time to time. She complains about her treatment by the father in the course of the marriage. There was, subsequent to the break-up, an occasion on which the mother over-chastised (their daughter), for which she received a caution. There were disruptions with the father being prevented from taking the children to Egypt because the mother feared abduction and the police had been called because of what are, in reality, fairly low level domestic issues. The father, for his part, has brought the boys with him for a confrontation with the mother’s boyfriend at Eid in 2013.

“The abnormal feature of the situation, which these parents must never kid themselves is acceptable, is that they are at the moment unable to speak to each other. That is something that can be explained, but as time passes it is not something that they would be able to excuse themselves for because in effect it dumps their dirty linen on their children with probably lifelong effects on the way in which the children may manage their own relationships. I do not, in any way, minimize 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 am therefore glad that both parents acknowledge that something ought to be done about this and the order that I make will provide, with (a social worker’s) agreement, for him to inform the parents of mediation facilities that are available locally and that might create an agenda for the parents; at the head of that agenda I would expect an ability to communicate in a practical manner, avoiding recrimination and gratuitous references to irrelevant grievances.

“As it is, the boys will not speak to their mother and as the parents will not speak to each other, it is (their daughter) who is the only person who is willing to speak to everybody. That is asking a lot of an eight-year-old and I am sure that she will find it less and less comfortable as she grows older.

“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. Firstly, because I think it unlikely that the boys will feel able to engage at all with their mother until they see their father doing so. Secondly, because I am not prepared to ordain any change in the arrangements for (their daughter) that might suck her into the same dynamic. I would rather that the current acceptable and enjoyable level of contact continues to take place than that something more ambitious was attempted, possibly leading to (their daughter) becoming alienated from one or other parent over time.”

A tragedy indeed.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. Email:

Geographic location: Egypt

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