I am a 46-year-old male who is about to be remarried. My fiance is divorced with an 11-year-old daughter. The court has awarded joint custody to my fiance and her ex-husband (one week with one, the next with the other). My problem is that the ex-husband is threatening the child with loss of love if the daughter chooses to live with her mother. The daughter has said that to both my fiance and me. It appears now that the daughter is being used as a pawn against my fiance. Her ex is extremely bitter and vindictive and is not above using anyone, including minors, in order to achieve his own goals. I have tried using reason and done my best to avoid saying anything bad about her father, yet feel that her father has disparaged me enough that she does not believe me.
Please give me some advice, if possible, on how to handle this situation before it becomes untenable. I know she sees a difference in how her mother acts around me as opposed to how she was around her dad. I want to help her before she becomes caught in an untenable position.
Here's the best advice I can offer:
- Get her age appropriate books on step-families and on divorced parents.
- Reassure her often that you will always be there for her, and ALWAYS LOVE HER!
- Help her understand her dad's behavior. You can explain that he is still hurt by not being with Mommy anymore, and sometimes when people are hurt, they act like angry "kids on the playground."
- See if ex-husband / dad, would agree to discuss the issue in some sort of counseling / or therapuetic milleau.
- Raise it with the court in a letter to the judge who presided over the divorce, with a cc to the dad. Try not to be overly "defensive" in tone, but rather "appropriately" concerned about the emotional stress being put on the child.
- Finally, the most important "long-term" advice I can give you is to see your role vis-a-vis your fiance and her ex as supportive and sympathetic, while simultaneously advocating being as "reasonable" and understanding as possible.
Marc Garson, MSW,ACSW, ACP