I’m worried that my elderly father is in an abusive marriage and is being isolated from me. The Guardian.
I am really concerned about my dad’s current relationship. After being widowed for some years, he met someone new and, within a short time, they got married. He is in his 70s and she is quite a bit younger, and neither me nor his friends feel that she has the best of intentions.
Shortly after getting married, my dad had strong suspicions that she was having an affair. Things got out of control quickly, with him believing that she was drugging him, and he became really fearful for his life as she became violent. However, after a while, things seemed to settle down.
Now, though, he has become very isolated: he no longer sees his friends and his communication with me is becoming more and more sporadic. I have tried to see him as much as I can, but she has not been happy about us meeting without her. Now, he has told me that he can no longer see me unless I accept and welcome her. I would find this very difficult as I do not trust her and find it very hard to pretend otherwise.
I want to continue to have a relationship with my dad and want to protect him, but I feel he is being manipulated so that he loses all ties with me. I am at a loss as to how to handle the situation.
Your longer letter troubled me greatly. Your dad’s wife sounds abusive. I think it is very important that you stay close to your dad, even if you have to pretend to tolerate her. If this were my dad, I would stay very close indeed.
If your father fears for his life or suspects she is drugging him, he should go to the police (he could get blood tests done by his GP). But your father has to go to the police or, if he doesn’t and you do, your dad has to back up what you say and press charges.
I spoke to James Carroll at the family law solicitors Russell-Cooke, who specialises in the financial aspect of relationship breakdowns. He advised, “There are things your father can do to regulate his financial affairs in the marriage. He could draw up a post-nuptial agreement that states what will happen if he and his wife separate.” But we both acknowledged this may not be easy for your dad. I asked Carroll what would happen to your dad’s affairs if he got out now. He said, “They would only share the money that was accumulated during the marriage and ensure that each other’s financial needs are met, so it wouldn’t eradicate your stepmum’s claim on your dad’s affairs but it would minimise it.”
However, far more important than money is your dad’s health, his safety and his life.
I also spoke to Rita Bhargava, another lawyer from Russell-Cooke, who specialises in court of protection and capacity issues. She said your father may want to give you lasting power of attorney (there are two types, financial and health/welfare), but he has to be able and willing to give you that. “If you have concerns about abuse,” she advised, “go to the police or social services, who should have a team which deals with elder abuse. He has to agree to this, though. You may also want to notify the court of protection, to have it put on record in case your stepmother applies for power of attorney.”
Bhargava then said something very astute, “Look at this situation, then take your dad’s age out of it.” In other words, it may be easy to let his age confuse things, but if we take it out of the equation, we still see something worrying: an abusive relationship (see the website below).
It is very tempting in situations such as these, especially if your dad has pushed you away or doesn’t keep up contact, to leave him to it. There may even be times where you think, “Well, you brought it on yourself”, or you may feel angry. But you may need to brush up your acting skills to pretend to like your stepmum and see your dad. “Keep trying,” says Bhargava.
I would also recruit wider family and friends to keep contacting him. The more the better, so you can all build up a picture of what is going on. It will also lessen the significant “burden” on you (and the more tense you get over this, the more likely you are to have an outburst and push your dad further away).
Finally, you may find the following websites useful:
The National Careline (Action on Elder Abuse)
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 31 March 2017.