Tuesday 26 September 2017

Ask Mary: My brother's soon-to-be ex-wife is making the divorce as painful as possible

Thinkstock Images.
Thinkstock Images.

Mary O'Rourke

I am consumed with anger. My brother's marriage broke down a number of years ago. They have children, but the separation process could not be any more bitter.

Although he has his faults, my brother worked very hard and provided a good life for his family, and they both agreed that their marriage was in trouble.

However, my sister-in-law has turned it into the nastiest soap opera ever.

My brother wanted mediation, but she refused. He then asked for everything to be split equally, while continuing to pay maintenance, but she wants everything.

She constantly bad-mouths my brother in front of the children. He, on the other hand, is a quiet man. He has always been a brilliant father, but is now a broken man.

What makes it worse is that my mother is aware of all of this, and I know it kills her.

Please tell me that I can trust the law and that there will be fairness to all involved.

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You see him as being unfairly treated, but you do not see behind the closed doors of a marriage

Let me start with your last question. Yes, you can have trust in the laws of the land – and from that trust there will be fairness to all involved.

I know people will point to cases where there seem to be glaring anomalies in the decisions reached. However, I have found that those decisions are usually based on facts that perhaps have not come out fully in the course of the case, but are usually level and fair.

Family law cases are still held 'in camera' – that is, in private. There has been a decision in principle to make them public, but this will not come about for some time.

Family law is fraught with emotion. When divorce came to Ireland in 1996, it was regarded by many as the slippery slope to perdition. I always thought it was only fair that people should have a second chance in life.

Equally, if you view a family at war with one another, it is far better for children to be removed from the scene of retribution and constant blame than to stay in a cauldron of boiling, destructive emotions and acrimony.

You and your mother love your brother and see his point of view very clearly. I would, however, introduce a note of caution. You know him as he was and is – a good, hardworking family provider whom you see being unfairly treated – but you do not see behind the closed doors of a marriage; you do not see what led to this separation.

Try not to interfere. They and their children are the family at the centre of the drama, not you or your mother.

Of course, you will try to do the best for your brother. And you and your mother will help in the care of the children – that would be what any family member or friend would do when a marriage breaks up.

But do not try to be the mender of this matter or, indeed, to completely apportion blame to one side and sainthood to the other. In time, hopefully, when matters have settled down, you will be able to retain love for your brother and the children but also a measure of friendship with your ex sister-in-law.

Now we come to the very important people in this home break-up: the children.

They will be going through such mixed emotions. They retain love for their mother and their father and it is important that the best of those feelings are encouraged.

The whole scene is full of emotion and it is difficult to steer a path through it. I would advise you to try to look at it from all angles. Try to maintain relationships between you all; try to give the children love, and, above all, do not apportion blame.

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