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Sister's basically a prisoner in her home.(23 Posts)
My sister lives in Italy. She is trying to file for a legal separation from her manipulative, controlling, monstrous husband. She has 2 DS, who are both at school. She told her husband in Sept,that she was filing for legal sep & it did not go down well. She has single handedly raised their kids, while he was out taking various drugs/ drink. He works for his dad & they bought a flat together a few years back. She is still waiting for her solicitor to prepare the papers for Leg Sep, but meanwhile, the husband has refused to leave their flat. The cycle that has been playing out these last few months is as follows; she tells him it's over, he goes crazy, shouting & swearing, then dissolves into hysterical tears, then a deep depression, then tries to turn over a' new leaf' (!), & is overly clingy & smarmy & when she reminds him of status quo, the cycle continues, all of which is played out in front of DS ,7 & 6 !!! Ds 7 has been doing badly at school, poor kid also is dealing with ASD on top of that. Police have said unless husband hits her, they can do nothing. Sister is just about keeping her sanity. She does nt work, receives no benefits & basically ,she & boys are trapped in this horrific, unhealthy environment, until she gets her legal separation ,which could take God knows how long. I don't know how to help her, I have 2 DS under 4 & cannot go over there. Can anyone give me advice on how to help my poor sister ? I feel so bad not knowing what to do...
Forgot to add that she has been told by DS' school, that if she takes boys & leaves Italy, without LS, she could be police escorted back onto a plane to Italy ,if husband wishes it .
I'm really sorry to hear about your sister.
I don't know if she has been in contact with women's domestic violence services, and I don't know where she is located, but she could try this website:
It has a map of all the domestic violence centres in Italy, some of which have refuges.
If she wants advice immediately she could try:
It's a bit like Women's Aid, but it's a local service based in Bologna. They will be able to give her general advice including legal, and also advise her about the services in her area. They have refuges.
Thank you so much for your kind suggestions. As she is in Italy, I had no idea how to look for such info. She is in Friuli, in the north, near Udine. Do u know if she would be entitled to stay in a refuge, when physical violence has not entered into the equation ?
How is she supporting herself if she doesn't work?
Is she British - can she just come home? It sounds dreadful for her there
Do the children have British passports? If so, could your sister escape one day and bring them over? If both she and the kids are speaking English and travelling on British passports, she is unlikely to be questioned, and once she is in the UK, she and they will be safe, and her husband would probably have to try pretty hard to get the kids back. (I am not a lawyer, but this is what I would do in her position)
She (or you) should speak to a lawyer over here to see if what the school said about a police escort is true, it sounds rather unlikely to me.
"Forgot to add that she has been told by DS's school, that if she takes boys & leaves Italy, without LS, she could be police escorted back onto a plane to Italy ,if husband wishes it."
The fucker would need to find her first!
This sounds like absolute twaddle to me. The right to free movement of people within the EU includes women with kids. If she's British she needs to get on a plane with her children and come home.
I thought that under The Hague Convention a child had to stay in the country in which it was habitually resident.
That meant that neither parent could take the child away to live in different country if the other parent objected.
She needs legal advice.
Some of this advice is frightening. Your sister (even though she may be regretting it now) has freely chosen to raise her children in another country. And for better or for worse, her husband is the person she has chosen to be her sons' other parent. I'm sure he (for all his flaws) loves his sons and they him. I'm not saying this to blame her or make light of her situation or even excuse his behaviour if he is being a nightmare, but the worst possible outcome for the children is a complete demonisation of their Dad by their Mum and extended British family.
So what can you do to help her? You can be objective and practical and positive about the future, because I'm sure those are things she is finding incredibly difficult, so far from home in an unhappy situation.
Re the police and fleeing to Britain with the children: Whether her sons are British passport holders is irrelevant, as is EU freedom of movement, and their school is absolutely right, just as a UK school would give exactly the same advice were the situation reversed.
Under the Hague convention a custody hearing takes place in the child's usual country of residence - in this case Italy - unless both parents agrees otherwise. Her husband wouldn't need to find her - the British police would return the children (not her) to the Italian courts unless she is planning on them living the rest of their childhood on the run, in hiding under false names. The up-side of the Hague convention is that there is more scrutiny of international custody hearings, and not being Italian doesn't mean she won't get custody and child support, but it does mean (reasonably IMHO) that she may have restrictions placed on whether she can uproot her children and move them permanently to Britain away from their Dad. As her children are 6 and 7 their opinions as to where they want to live might also be relevant, and they may not want to move away from their Italian family and friends. If she takes the children away with the intention of not returning to Italy for a court hearing then she will be guilty of kidnapping them which is likely to seriously harm her future custody case.
If she wants out of the current situation then there is nothing stopping her from moving into a new home in Italy and bringing the children with her, and if a women's refuge can help with that then so much the better.
If nothing else, that might motivate her ex to engage with the legal separation process to formalise maintenance/child support and the sale or otherwise of the flat. Obviously she needs an income source in the short term, but as you say she contributed to the purchase of the flat, I presume she can work? If I were her I'd be looking for a job ASAP, unless you or other family are in a position to help financially? Also, while she has no entitlement to benefits living with her husband, might that change as a single parent not living with her spouse? Legally, under EU law, she is entitled to exactly the same assistance as an Italian woman would get in the same position.
Another alternative, if she has someone to stay with, might be an extended holiday in the UK with her boys (subject to Italian legal advice, and a solicitor's letter to her husband clarifying that it is only a holiday to give them both a little breathing space and that she and the boys will return to attend mediation/custody proceedings and will fully abide by any court judgement). Some people have difficulty moving forward until they have no other option because the status quo is absolutely over.
I'm sure she is reluctant to voluntarily leave a home she has helped to pay for, but it seems to me one of those situations when she needs to prioritise what is MOST important to her (breaking the current awful cycle for her and the children) and to accept that she may have to (temporarily) accept things which are not be ideal or fair but are ultimately less important than the emotional wellbeing of her and her children.
I'm sorry it is unlikely to work out as easily or as cleanly as she might wish it to, but I wish her and her boys the very best of luck as they navigate through a difficult time and hopefully go on to build a new and happier life for themselves.
Gosh, advice on here can sometimes be dangerous. As the pp above says, she cannot take the children out of Italy without their father's permission, otherwise she risks them being forceable taken back to Italy and her being charged with kidnapping. It is harsh but this law to protect all of us and our children.
I appreciate running away with the children is not a strictly legal thing to do, but all the same, if her situation is as bleak as OP says, I can certainly see why her sister might consider it.
In the short term, I think she has to play her cards close to her chest. Obviously she had to tell her husband it was over, but beyond that she should surely present him with a done deed re the separation, to prevent any chance of his being able to interfere, and to keep him sweet in the short term. It is clearly an intolerable and unsustainable situation for her and the boys. I think a break would help, so yes, trip to UK with husband's consent, and a a serious action plan to move elsewhere in Italy and start afresh, if he will not agree to let her and the boys go home.
I don't know about Italy, but certainly here you don't have to experience physical violence to get a place in a refuge.
From the map linked above it appears that there are two organisations in Udine itself.
The first has a website:
The second doesn't have a website but the details are:
Zero Tolerance - Udine (UD)
Zero Tolerance Udine
Viale Duodo 77
33100 - Udine (UD)
There are also further organisations in Trieste, Gorizia & Pordenone.
However if she's thinking of a refuge she might prefer to go out of her immediate area.
Solarium: To move elsewhere in Italy? The marriage may have broken down, but nowhere does it say that he doesn't love his children or that he is a terrible father, just that he is a terrible husband. For all of her single-handedly bringing up the children, she doesn't work or get benefits so clearly he provides for them, and that split of caring/providing roles is very common in families and doesn't in itself make him a bad Dad.
Deliberately moving so far away within Italy that the children would have their schooling, friendships and family relationships disrupted could also count against her getting custody of the children. When I suggested she might get on with moving out, I meant locally, so OP's sister could begin to live independently but still give her children continuity at school and with family and friends. That, or if she has been advised against moving from the flat, finding a job while the children are at school might give her some independence and perspective as well as some savings. Good luck, but do try not to get sucked into lengthy conversations about how terrible he is - that can't be helped now. Focus on the things your sister has within her power to change...it's her life, and she has the right to live it how she chooses, including independently of her husband.
Any man who is abusive to his children's mother is a lousy father as well as a lousy husband. All of this emotional abuse is being played out in front of the children, and it is recognised that children are deeply damaged by abuse that goes on around them even if they are not the direct target themselves.
Did you miss the bit here the OP states here sister has raised the children on her own while he was out drinking and taking drugs? Problem drink/drug users are a hazard around children, set an appalling example, and manifest addiction patterns for their children to follow.
It's not sensible to move to somewhere in the same area that they have always lived, because he will be at liberty to continue to harass her. When dealing with abusive men like this, it's generally necessary for the wife to get right away from him, in order to protect herself and the children. I assume there must be an Italian equivalent of a non-mol, but they're difficult to enforce, and Italian police are not known for their effectiveness.
In the UK if the OP's sister shared with her GP what the OP has shared here, the GP would be obliged to report the case to the SS due to child protection issues. The SS would do an assessment and the OP's sister would likely be required assure the SS that she would have no further contact with the husband.
I think people are making huge leaps and assumptions from OP's brief summary.
People are saying "harassment" and "abusive" like it's a fact, when in fact what OP has said is there is a cycle of her sister telling him it's over (but not leaving), big dramatic arguments followed by his efforts to make up with her.
He sounds awful, but in his position if he really doesn't want his marriage to end in divorce, of course he wouldn't move out voluntarily.
I go out and drink, but like most parents in happy marriages it is generally in the company of my husband rather than with my friends, leaving my spouse at home, which seems to be the implication here. Again, it is a bit of a leap to assume he is a quasi junkie/alcoholic or that his children are even aware he drinks or uses drugs. Clearly he is able to work with his Dad and provide for his family, so he can't be off his face all the time.
OP also says that one of the children has ASD...this can often run in families, so perhaps the husband has underlying reasons why his behaviour is so difficult and immature?
There are two children trapped in this unhealthy situation of their parents making, but OP's sister is not one of them. So far she has chosen (as has her husband) to continue living together in what must be a nightmare dynamic (and I agree arguing parents are damaging, but to suggest non violent but rowing parents are a child protection issue is a bit OTT). I hate the automatic assumption and acceptance that she is a victim. It sounds likely that her confidence has been undermined by the isolation of stay-at-home parenting in a foreign country and an unhappy manipulative chauvinistic husband, but those are things it is completely in her power to take control of with the right help. Have you suggested counselling OP? A life coach might help her to get back into the workplace? Financial independence would go a long way towards protecting herself from being totally dependent on her ex and would shift the balance of power significantly...a job would be my priority if I were her.
Of course it isn't good for kids to see their parents unhappy or fighting, but if she honestly believes the atmosphere is harming them then she needs to scrape together the rent on a small flat, (or find temporary accommodation in a refuge) move out with the boys and make it very clear that this divorce is definitely happening.
Is there any reason to believe that that if OP's sister got a job (or a loan) and moved out into her own place with the boys, close enough for them to stay in the same school, even for a couple of months, that her husband would harass her? OP's sister is an adult Mother of two children and now is her time to think about what is best for her children as well as what is best for her and to take back control of her own life.
I'm not an apologist for abusive relationships. It might be that her husband IS abusive and threatening and she is scared of violence or that he is a terrible father and that the children are at risk, but all I am saying is that equally, it might just be an unhealthy, unhappy, dying marriage to someone she no longer likes. It seems she has spoken to police, teachers and a lawyer in her efforts to get him to leave their shared flat, and none of them see actionable abuse or child protection concerns. I don't know anything about you Twinkle, but might you be projecting previous experiences onto this situation?
Clearly she needs to get on with ending the marriage if that is her choice, and she needs better legal advice than she is currently getting. Any competent lawyer would have outlined the Hague Convention as well as any entitlements to benefits/housing etc.
Your post on the legal implications of leaving the country with the kids was excellent and absolutely needed saying, but you clearly do not recognise an abusive relationship when you see one.
The husband abuses drugs and alcohol because he may have ASD?
No doubt you mean well Emma but you're very naive and you're not helping.
Fwiw I am not and never have been in an abusive relationship but I work with women who are.
Twinkle, it seemed to me that you were making a lot of assumptions that were coming from your own experience, so I'm not surprised that's your field of work, but I am surprised you are making such serious judgements based on so little information.
If you reread my last post you will notice that I am completely open to the possibility that this is an abusive relationship and damaging to the children in a more serious way than a 'normal' (i.e. non abusive) but messy, shouty traumatic marriage breakdown which is also damaging to the children, but I am trying to keep an open mind to a whole range of possibilities rather than leaping straight for the most dramatic one and fanning the flames.
As for ASD, NOWHERE did I say her husband 'abuses' (your word Twinkle's, not Missi's in the OP) drugs or alcohol because he has ASD (a field I know well).
What I said was that there are many genetic components to ASD, so it is worth considering that when a child has ASD, sometimes an older family member then discovers that they have mild, previously undiagnosed ASD. I suggested it as something to consider because IF his difficult/abusive/unpleasant behaviour has an underlying cause that is not entirely within his control, he may benefit from professional help himself (which I accept he might not be open to right now) or at the very least it might take some of the heat out of everyone's perception of the current situation. And before you attack me again, Twinkle, no, I am not in any way saying that if he did have ASD that bullying or manipulative behaviour is OK, but sometimes it helps to understand the root causes of why someone behaves the way they do, especially when, as in this case, to some degree he will be in her life for the rest of her life, even if only via his interaction with their children.
I absolutely stand by my suggestion of professional help for OP's sister - counselling to deal with issues arising from the difficult (or abusive) relationship seems really obvious, and yes, life or career coaching of some sort might be useful if she is thinking about getting a job and making life changing practical decisions because I imagine her confidence is at a low ebb.
It's complex and we have limited information. I am trying to help by offering a range of solutions, based on the whole range of what may or may not be happening.
I assume you are trying to help too Twinkle, and if things really are full-on abusive then maybe you are right and she will need to up sticks and move far away. However, I'd be slow to present that as the ONLY option in a relationship which is not violent (and not even threatening violence I think?) and where there are small children settled and at school. She also needs to consider damage that it may cause to her boys by losing their relationships with their Dad and Grandfather and any other extended family, or even worse, the implication for Mum, if her relocating far away allowed her ex to get custody (I don't think that's likely, but it is a risk that would need to be discussed with her lawyer). There are no easy options here, every option needs to be thought through and weighed up carefully. Of course the current horrible pattern has to be broken but IF it is possible (and it may not be), the best outcome for the boys is for the situation to be diffused as much as possible, not fuelled, and for their lives to be disrupted as little as possible. People need to keep reminding themselves that when the divorce is over and Missi's sister has her own home and is no longer being manipulated or bullied, that some sort of functional communication will need to be salvaged because they share children. Also, it's tough work raising two children, especially when one has special needs, and I don't know what her relationship with the extended family is like, but if it's reasonable, she may be glad to have them nearby.
Missi, I hope I have helped in some way because it must be incredibly difficult to know your sister is going through this without her own family to support her. Fingers crossed that one of the refuges Twinkle suggested might be able to help with some temporary accommodation until the legal separation is sorted.
When you see the same behaviours over and over, they're easy to identify. Just as a doctor can identify a rash because he's seen it umpteen times.
I don't dispute you have covered yourself by saying 'maybe' the relationship is abusive, I say there is no maybe about it. You don't seem to be aware of what emotional abuse actually consists.
Identifying abuse is not 'dramatic' or 'fanning the flames' and it's rather immature to say so. It's simply bringing clarity to a confusing and traumatic situation.
There are key indicators in the OP's posts that this is an abusive relationship:
1)'My sister is a basically a prisoner in her own home', she says, 'trapped in a horrific and unhealthy environment'. Are these characteristics of a normal healthy relationship?
2)The husband is 'manipulative' 'controlling' 'monstrous'.
The key elements of abusive relationships are power and control.
Here is the [http://www.ncdsv.org/images/powercontrolwheelnos
3) The sister has 'raised her children single-handedly' in other words her husband has taken no responsibility for the children or contributed to childcare. Indeed he seems to have prioritised his drink and drug use over childcare.
4) Then there's the classic pattern in the sister's attempts to leave:
The sister tells him it's over, he refuses to leave, he goes 'crazy' unleashes verbal abuse 'shouting and swearing', then swings into emotional blackmail by 'dissolving into hysterical tears' and going into a 'deep depression'. Then he 'turns over a new leaf' and lovebombs her by being 'clingy' and 'smarmy' in an attempt to save the relationship and to control his wife. Then she reminds him it is still over and the cycle begins all over again.
This is all the abusers script. The same pattern gets repeated over and over again in this and a million other abusive relationships.
6)All of this is played out in front of the children which is extremely damaging for children, all the more so for the ASD child. This man seems to have no consideration of the damage his behaviour is causing his children.
7) The OP describes her sister as 'just about clinging to her sanity'.
This is not an ordinary difficult marriage breakup, it is emotional abuse pure and simple, and it is clearly, sadly taking its toll on the sister's mental health.
Ending a relationship is one of the key factors for escalation of abuse. That is the point at which women are most in danger.
In the UK the sister would likely have been advised da charities not to tell him she was leaving until she had an escape plan. And a good solicitor experienced in da may well have organised to serve the divorce papers, a non-molestation order and potentially an occupation order all on the same day, to protect her and the children from harassment and abuse consequent on ending the relationship.
I am aware that the OP does not use the term abuse. She may not identify it as abuse, although I think it unlikely as the OP asks if her sister would be eligible for a refuge place without the presence of violence: refuges are only available for people in abusive relationships. Furthermore her sister has clearly been in contact with the police.
There's no doubt the sister needs professional help. She needs support from da workers, from a counsellor/psychotherapist specialising in abuse and ideally the Freedom Programme A life coach would be fuck all use in this situation.
Her lack of work may not be due to ignorance of career options so a career coach may not be much use either.
It's quite possible that her husband does not want her to work and has made it difficult for her to do so, that's fairly common in these kinds of relationships. In addition Italy is a traditional patriarchal culture, (I have a house there so I am very familiar with it), and there's more expectation and pressure there for a mother to stay home with the children.
Finding childcare for an ASD child is very difficult and in the obscure corner of Italy that she lives those kinds of services may not be available. Depending of his level of disability she may need to be able to leave him for long periods. It's also quite possible that what she earns would be all but wiped out by childcare, even if she could find it.
I did not say that 'moving far away was the only option', I said it may be necessary to 'get right away from him' not the same thing. My point was actually that's it's not a good idea for her to stay within the same neighbourhood. Given contact issues it may not be possible to move 'far away' even if she wanted to. But living in the immediate vicinity will leave her open to continued harassment. Moving to nearby town may be enough distance, it depends on him.
Violence is not the only reason women sometimes have to get away from the abuser as you seem to think. Emotional abuse is equally damaging, and can push women to depression, anxiety, breakdown and PTSD. That is why refuges take victims of emotional as well as physical abuse.
In the short term it sounds as if the OP's sister needs a break and time to recover so it may be necessary to get away from him for a while. She may be able to get 6 to 8 months in a refuge. Once she has recovered she may feel more able to cope with her husband's behaviour and it may be possible to get it under control legally so that he cannot continue to harass her (ie with some kind of injunction). Although I wouldn't personally want to rely on Italian police for its enforcement.
As regards potential damage to the children losing their relationship with their father - you're projecting a long way ahead and it may not come to that. But as you brought it up I have to say you seem to be entirely unaware of the damage of emotional abuse on children even when they are not the target. You have to weigh up the damage on both sides. This man does not seem very concerned at the impact of his behaviour on them thus far. And if he behaves as appallingly with his children as he does with his wife, then they may need protection from him. It's unknown as to whether he's responsible enough to look after them alone given his lack of involvement, his drug and alcohol use, and his general 'monstrous' behaviour. A further issue is that abusive men sometimes manipulate their children too order to get at their ex partner.
Finally, as regards the ASD question, I did not intend to imply that you were suggesting ASD with reference only to his drug and alcohol use I simply picked it out as the most absurd aspect. Clearly you were raised it with regard his behaviour in general, which you describe as 'difficult and immature'. A description as woefully inadequate as it is naive. It's emotional abuse pure and simple.
I too have some experience of ASD as I have a family member with it. ASD can cause challenging behaviour but you are no doubt aware that ASD does not cause the behaviour described by the OP. That's not to say he's not on the spectrum, but that cannot be the whole story and mental health issues are another obvious possibility. Ultimately the cause is not the most important issue, but the effects on mother and children and what to do about it.
Anyway, I came to this thread to support the OP, not to get into a long discussion about the nature of emotional abuse.
I don't have any more time to come back to the forum, so I won't be able to read any further replies.
However, OP if you need any more help of any kind, including locating dv services in Italy, please feel free to PM me any time.
Best wishes to you and I hope your sister manages to get out of her frightful situation.
I wasn't going to reply, because as you say, the focus should have been on the OP's issue. However, your analogy with the doctor is a good one. No matter how many rashes a doctor had seen, no doctor would ever diagnose a patient he hadn't seen on the basis of having SOME of their symptoms relayed by somebody else, because it would be unprofessional, irresponsible and could potentially cause far more harm than good. In this situation there could be all sorts of additional factors at play we don't know about.
You seem unduly upset by an approach/advice that is different to yours...so much so that instead of just offering a different perspective you needed to firstly make personal insults and belittle me, then swear, then basically say like a child "I'm having the last word then I'm not listening any more"(!)
Can there not be a range of views and suggestions for the OP to consider?
The main reason I did reply is because the initial request was for support for the OP in terms of how she can help.
The OP includes information about the situation which you have completely ignored in your long post.
Both the children are in school.
Hence my suggestion about a job of some kind which I think if she has been isolated by caring for her children for the past 7 years might help her to meet people and build some independence.
Also, and critically, she has not and is not trying to leave her husband. She is trying to force him to leave her so she can stay put with her children in their jointly owned flat. He does not want the marriage to end. The legal process is taking a long time and she doesn't know when it will be concluded. That is an incredibly stressful situation for all involved, and even in a non abusive situation I would expect rows, shouting, desperate emotional pleas, attempts to change her mind and very upset children.
My concern Twinkletoes is your leap from there to the assumption that he is an abuser who will harass her after she (or he) leaves and that she is "in danger". If I were the OP I would find that terrifying.
Hopefully, after the legal separation is concluded she will be given resident custody of her children in the flat. The thing we seem to be in agreement on is that in the short term, having made the decision to end the marriage and informed him of it, perhaps it might be better for everyone if she were to move out with the boys, but to stay close enough for school and their normal routine to be undisturbed. In terms of practical help Missi, that's where I'd start - either by seeing if any of the women's aid/refuge organisations can help with accommodation, or with financial help if they can't and she needs to rent privately to give herself some breathing space.
At THAT point I think it would be a sensible time to draw breath, reassess the situation and see how much of the behaviour (while of course unacceptable) was a response to the situation, and how things look then.
I'm not quite sure why Twinkletoes seems so horrified by my suggesting a lifecoach?! What I mean is someone local who knows the town and systems and the options/jobs open to her who can provide support and practical advice for someone who is becoming independent again after a long time as a dependent wife and full-time carer of her children. I don't know if she has many friends locally - if she does then maybe she will get this kind of support from them, but if not then maybe it would help to have a bit of moral support and someone to discuss things with and to suggest options she might not have thought of herself, which I think is a separate thing to any counselling which might help to deal with any emotional fallout. I imagine most of the organisations Twinkletoes listed either have people who offer this type of practical advice/support or could recommend someone.
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