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Help pls Ex SIL with serious mental health problems


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Please help us my family are having problems with an ex sister in law.

Our story is a long one so forgive me I'll try and keep it short. I have an ex sister in law with some kind of personality disorder/mental health problem that as far as I am aware she has never actually been treated or properly undiagnosed. The reason we know she has a mental health problem, other than the way she behaves is because many years ago when her daughter was 3 years old she accused my brother of abusing his daughter and went to court to try and prevent him seeing her. The judge ordered that my niece be seen by a child psychologist and she insisted in being present when the child psychologist saw my niece. The child psychologist said that she believed there was no truth in the alligations and furthermore she believed my ex SIL's needed psychiatric treatment. My brother and sister went back to see the psychiatrist to ask for a further explanation of her comment on my ex SIL and she said that her first impression of my ex SIL was that she had some severe kind of psychiatric disorder. She said that it probably manifested itself sometime in my ex SIL's childhood long before she met my brother.

My brother and his (now) ex wife divorced about 9 years ago. They have a daughter who is now 11 years old. For many years, whilst she caused us tremendous trouble, obviously more so to my brother than the rest of the family, this had little affect on my niece and my brother thought it was best for the sake of his daughter to put up and shut up. But my niece is growing up fast and we are very fearful for her future. Her mother has had very tight control over her all her life and whilst she was young that was fine but now that she is growing up we are worried the effect this could have on her. My niece is very grown up for her age and very intelligent (she has had some glowing reports from her school who cannot seem to fault her) but when it comes to her mother she is surprisingly naive. Her mother won't let her use knives or go near a kettle and sends her to bed at 7 p.m. prompt every night. Whilst my niece was young that was fine but not now. My ex SIL is a compulsive liar. She lies about everything from little stories about people they know and things that have happened e.g. we recently took my niece away for a few days (this is a court order that my brother be allowed to take her on holiday for 10 days max per year and this is the maximum my ex SIL will allow, the court order was made about 6 years ago and has not been revised) my ex SIL insists my niece calls her every day whilst she is away (although my niece says her mum does not insist, if she does not call her, she gets a lecture) during one of these calls that I witnessed my ex SIL asked her why she hadn't called and my niece said she had tried to call her and had left her a message on both her home phone and her mobile (I know this is true because my brother was with her at the time), my ex SIL said she hadn't received either message (I have never in my life left a message that has not been picked up and I cannot think why she would lie about this (my niece believes her)). About 99% of the things my ex SIL says is utter rubbish. To top it all she is a total hypochondriac. She's had every organ in her body tested for some illness or other and the doctors can find nothing wrong with her.

We are fearful that as my niece grows up she is going to need more and more independence from her mother and her mother will deny her this. Firstly my brother would desperately like more time with her but this year he has experienced a reduction in time with her. Secondly, we want my niece to be able to enjoy more freedom as she grows up. At the moment my niece is not even allowed to go on school trips or to her school leavers disco or other event and we are afraid that this control her mother exerts over her will continue and if my niece kicks out against or my brother tries to intervene she will try and use other more cunning plans to prevent her. In a nutshell we are afraid that by the time she reaches her early 20's she will either really have kicked out against her mother and perhaps run away and got into all sorts of vices or she will be a quiet puppet still living at home jumping to her mothers orders and we desperately want her to have a normal life.

We believe that it is now unhealthy for my niece to spend so much time with her mother exclusively. We have tried to encourage her to phone one of us when she is with her mother but she is not allowed (she is not even allowed to call my brother). My sister has repeated put her phone details on my nieces mobile but they are repeated mysteriously erased (my niece believes there's a fault with the phone!!)

My niece is always quizzed when she goes home and my brother nearly always has a list of complaints from my ex SIL from cruelty to my niece's pet rabbit when my brother took it to the vet to threats that she will call the police because as she says my son (aged 5) was left in the care of my niece for 5 minutes whilst I answered the phone. My brother is told this is illegal and will be considered by the police as neglect!!)

I could go on and on but I don't want to bore you.

My question is can anyone offer some kind of advice on how we can deal with the situation. Is there such a thing as an organisation or self help group or services that deal with relatives of people suffering from mental health that can help us.

Many thanks for your time and any advice you might have and I am sorry if I have rambled a bit.


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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Brenda70,

Thank you for the information you provided. However, there is something I do not understand?? How was your ex sister in law able to get such full control of this daughter, with fairly strict limitations on her ex husband, given what the psychologist found when she examined the then little girl and given this woman's mental health problems? I do not understand? Did the court believe that your brother was abusing this girl? Didn't your brother's divorce lawyer order an investigation by family court on how the daughter is being treated by the mother and how she was adjusting at the time? There is a lot that appears to be missing in this awful story.

It might help if you could explain this, if you know the answer.

Also, unless there is proof of this woman abusing this girl, there is nothing that can be done. Does your brother want to go back to court and challenge the custody arrangements?

What do others think about this situation?


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Hi Allan

Thank you for your reply. Yes I can understand your confusion. No the courts did not believe my ex SIL allegations and I think that that was quite a shock to her. I think she really thought that everyone she spoke to would believe her allegations and when they didn't but not only that they judged her for it she was quite shocked.

I think my brother really should have gone for full custody at the time of the allegations but at the time my brother really believed that my niece was better off with her mother. My brother works full time and lives some distance from my niece. My niece at the time was settled in a nursery and, despite her mother's mental health issues, she was taking good care of my niece. The problem is my brother and family are unfamiliar with mental illness and none of us could foresee how my nieces life would pan out and how this would affect her and now we are quite fearful of her future.

My brother still sees his daughter every other w/end and for a 10 day holiday once a year whilst non of us think this is adequate any increase in this time has so far been met with a great deal of resistance. If we went back to court now, as my niece is now 11 years old, the courts would ask her directly what she wants and she is likely to be heavily influenced by her mother. I have a friend who was in a similar position to my brother and the courts asked his son what he wanted needless to say he now doesn't see his son at all!! No way does my brother or family want to be in a similar position. Our view is a limited amount of time with her is better than none.

If I can just refer to one of your questions - "Didn't your brother's divorce lawyer order an investigation by family court on how the daughter is being treated by the mother and how she was adjusting at the time?" We are from the UK and this is not routinely done. To be honest it was not something that was suggested or something that we had thought about. In retrospect we should have asked for something like this but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think if we were to go down this route now it may well upset my niece. Despite everything my niece still loves her mother. It should really have been done when my niece was too young to understand.

Thank you for your reply.


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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Brenda,

Thanks for your reply and I do understand more clearly now. So, the problem now is that nothing much can be done and it is unfortunate. That must be very frustrating for all of you.


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