August 13, 2008
Sydney Morning Herald
IN A rare move, the Family Court has told a dying man he may leave a "time capsule", comprising a letter and DVD, for the 11-year-old daughter he has not seen for years. The main purpose of the time capsule is to exonerate the girl for her father's death.
The girl has consistently expressed a wish that "her father was dead", the court was told. He has terminal liver cancer.
The court's family consultant has expressed concern for the girl's emotional health in light of vehement remarks she has made about her father over the years.
The girl's court-appointed lawyer, Duncan Holmes, of Slade Manwaring, said: "While wishing your father dead might be a typical childish remark, in this case the little girl's wish is going to come true, quite quickly.
"In the circumstances you have to do what you can."
The girl was three when her parents separated in 2000. The trial judge, Justice Mark Le Poer Trench, said in his reason for judgment on Monday that the mother was "permeated with hatred for the father" and was unwilling to facilitate the relationship between the child and her father.
In 2002, the court ordered that the father be allowed twice-weekly telephone contact with his daughter, and be able to send her letters and gifts. The parents were ordered to attend counselling to improve their relationship so that the girl could spend time with her father. The girl last saw him in December 2003.
The father applied to the court in May 2006 to be able to see his daughter every second weekend and half the school holidays.
But Mr Holmes said the case had "meandered through the court for 2½ years until it clicked into gear after his diagnosis of inoperable liver cancer".
Mr Holmes said the child had expressed the hatred from an early age. Yet court records showed this was not a case involving abuse or serious violence.
Mr Holmes said the mother had not believed her former husband was dying, and it had been necessary to bring the man's doctor, a professor of gastroenterology, to the court to give his diagnosis.
The court has said the father should provide the letter and DVD to Mr Holmes, who will check it is suitable and contains nothing that disparages the mother. The capsule will be lodged with the court and the girl will be told how she might see it in the future.
Mr Holmes said the court had also made orders to try to set up a last visit between the father and daughter but he did not hold great hope this would happen.
It was rare for a court to go to such lengths to allow a father "to convey his love to his daughter".
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