Lawsuits and Loved Ones


My sister doesn’t get along with the rest of the family lately. She has had a rough few years, with some issues with substance abuse and some problems financially. My parents have been raising my sister’s kids while a lot of this has been going on. Now my sister is trying to rebuild her life, but she’s going about it in the wrong order, if you ask the rest of us. She wants the kids back and doesn’t want to pay back a lot of money that my parents loaned her. She’s less interested, though, in proving to everyone that she’s sober and ready to be a great mom. My parents don’t have legal custody of my sister’s children, and they don’t want to report my sister to child services or anything like that, so they’re trying to keep her in the house by threatening to sue her over the loans if she takes her kids and leaves. If it sounds messy, well, it is. Experts: what kind of legal options do my parents have here?

The law is complicated enough on its own. When family ties are involved, things can get even more difficult. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when legal action is the only path forward in dealing with a family member.

But, say the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based family law practitioners at Stancati, Hencken & Greenlee, P.C., it’s vital that your parents get their advice from an attorney, not an advice column. They’ll want to start by consulting with lawyers who specialize in family law, a section of law that includes things like child custody. Their idea to leverage a financial lawsuit appears to skirt the real issue.

An attorney will be able to tell them what legal options they have to protect your sister’s children--and will help them understand just how big of a step it may be to initiate legal action. Once your family’s problems enter a court of law, say the professional lawyers at Avrek, it’s hard to go back. Your family will be speaking through lawyers once that step is taken, and there’s a good chance the divide between the sister and the rest of you will grow worse--which is why so many experts suggest that people think very carefully before initiating any kind of legal action against a member of their own family.

And it’s not just about the people on the two sides: there are also the children caught in the middle. Custody battles can be very tough on children, and not all such battles are worth it--it’s easy to overestimate one’s right to custody, and too many parents and would-be guardians fight hopeless battles at the expense of the children involved.

This doesn’t mean that your parents can’t take legal action. They can and should consult with an attorney. But they should also be prepared to hear out their lawyer on subjects like their shot at winning any eventual case or the potential that such a case has to harm their family relationships. If there is still a path to reconciliation, now is the time to take it--before taking legal action. Therapy is a good idea, and your parents can attend with or without your sister. The law will always be there as a last resort.

“That what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” -- Deb Caletti

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