Divorce doesn’t always mean cutting ties with in-laws

By Carolyn Hax, Syndicated Columnist

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband’s brother is in the middle of a very nasty divorce, and my husband and I are grieving the loss of a wonderful friendship with our ex-sister-in-law.

The brother has been adamant about our cutting ties with her. We are not so sure we can do this, and have been thinking of including her in our holiday plans.

Would you agree that it’s OK to make an exception at holidays, especially for someone who doesn’t really have other family in the area?

— Anonymous

DEAR CAROLYN: This is wholly dependent on context. The simplistic answer is to say your brother-in-law doesn’t have the right to make you cut ties. He doesn’t.

But: He might have the right to ask. Who wronged whom in the marriage? I’ve read too many accounts of abuse victims whose families insist on staying in touch with the abusers. That’s a huge betrayal by family.

On the other hand, if your brother-in-law mistreated his ex, then his family has standing to say, “You want nothing to do with her, and that’s your right, but she was good to us and we grew to love her over these 7/17/27 years.”

You can even ask him to back up his request: “If she mistreated you, then please say so, because we don’t want to harbor someone who harmed you. But if you just don’t love her anymore, then I feel I have a right to continue my own relationship with her.”

Just make sure you’re confident in your facts and prepared for any consequences before you act, since any choice is likely to alienate someone. If you’re not willing to risk your relationship with the brother, or if your husband isn’t, then that decides it. Otherwise you maintain ties as you deem appropriate and let others decide how to respond.