Ask the grumpies: An Ethical Life Question (family divorce drama)

Sister-in-Law asks:

My brother in law and his ex are going through an icky divorce in state X. She took the kids and fled to state Y then filed a restraining order against him. She did this in my father in law’s spare car (so, technically stolen, but my BIL’s lawyer advised them not to report the car stolen/get it back until after the divorce is final because she has to get to court hearings). He got temporary emergency custody, but then a judge here in Y split the custody 50/50 until they can have a hearing in state X. He had them for a week in state X, then she brought them back up to state Y to stay with a friend. She got kicked out of that house and dumped the kids on her mom for the rest of the week. As far as I know, she is homeless, but she hasn’t contacted me.

They have a custody hearing soon. Afterwards . . . should I stay 100% out of this? Or should I contact her and suggest she go to a women’s shelter to get on her feet?

I think my BIL should have custody. She’s always been a bit of a hot mess, and this is just the last straw. He’s a great dad (attentive, loving, engaged) whereas she doesn’t do a lot with them as far as I can see. Every time we’ve hung out as a family (including multiple week long vacations), other people do the majority of caring for her kids. I do a lot of crafts and activities with them. She wants to, but she’s had a rough life (raised in poverty, learned helplessness, etc) and doesn’t know well how to take care of herself much less the kids.

So . . . I’m nervous that if I suggest something it will lead to her getting custody. But I also feel bad for her and want to see her somewhere safe.

Is it worth mentioning that I think she’s with her boyfriend? He lost custody of his kids due to his drug use, and I think he has a bench warrant for missing a court appearance due to drug use. His kids live with his mom.

What do I do?


#1 says: This is a question for a real advice columnist. That sounds really hard for everyone involved.

It probably doesn’t matter if you reach out to her with your women’s shelter suggestion or not. She will most likely not take your advice if you reach out. So if it makes you feel better, reach out with your suggestion. If it seems like too much effort, don’t.

#2 says: Stay entirely out of anything legal, or who’s where in what situation. That’s not for you.

What *is* for you is to reach out to BIL’s wife, if you have a good relationship with her. Say something like “I heard you’re having a rough time. If you need some help, please let me know what I can do for you and the kids. I’d be happy to take them for an afternoon if you need a break [if this is true], or just listen if you want to talk.” That’s about it. You can offer to help, but her business is her own.

Obligatory plug for reading Captain Awkward, who often answers questions similar to this.

Who has better advice for Sister-in-Law?


6 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: An Ethical Life Question (family divorce drama)”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    You should 100% stay out of this. Your BIL is going through a non-amicable divorce with custody issues. There’s a decent chance this custody hearing won’t be the last. It’s not a question of whether reaching out to ex about a shelter will help her get on her feet (it probably won’t) and make her a more fit parent (which, btw, would be better anyway for all involved). Rather, it’s really easy for you reaching out to be construed as harassment by a less than sympathetic divorce attorney and hurt your brother’s chances of full custody by creating a hostile home environment because, well, people fight dirty when kids are involved.

    Seriously, stay out of it. It is likely to be neutral at best and actively harmful at worst.

    Person who has seen shit go down at messy divorce proceedings

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Comment about asbestos here:

  3. ocmags Says:

    I would stay out entirely at this time.

    And after the divorce is finalized and custody has been settled, I would offer to pay for the kids to get counseling, if you can afford it. Maybe try to find a counselor who will work on a sliding scale based on the parent’s finances, if need be. The adults in this situation have ALL contributed to it, but the kids are the ones who are contending with chaos they have no way to control. This situation seems like something that has the potential to really derail their lives.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    100% ditto YAPFB – stay out of it. I’ve helped and supported more than one friend through messy divorces but only because they directly reached out to me for support directly to them. It’s not our place and generally a really bad idea to reach out to the divorcing spouse because of all the complications it could add to which is not good for the kids. Plan to be there neutrally for the kids if anything, they’re going to need it far more than a grown adult who can fend for herself, or choose not to as the case may be.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Sister-in-law responds:

    Oh, very good comments! Thank you! Upon reflecting, yes, I agree. An update: BIL was awarded full custody for a month. At that time, they’ll go back and do mediation first and then the courts if they can’t come to an amicable solution. Ex-SIL does not have an attorney. She can’t afford it. But BIL’s attorney did sit with her at court, explain the legalities, give her a list of names and places to turn to for support, and make sure she knows the next steps. BIL doesn’t hate her; he just doesn’t want to be married to her (due to her infidelity and flakiness with kids), and he wants what is best for his kids.

    I have stayed completely out other than supporting my BIL. Oh, and I got books for the kids and listened to them recently when we hung out (tho they live 5ish hours from me, so I don’t see them often).

    I do know she has been calling my MIL for help, and my MIL has been recommending a women’s shelter. She doesn’t want to go. My MIL is now the broken record: “I won’t give you money [for gas/rent/etc]. But call me anytime when you want me to drop you off at the women’s shelter.”

    Yes, it would be great if she became a more fit parent. We’ll see. I doubt it. And agreed that I feel the most awful for the kids in all of this.

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