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Ask Rene: Should I Worry About My Ex’s New Wife’s Mental Health?

Dear Rene,

My ex-boyfriend and I have a five-year-old daughter and are in the middle of a custody case. I was dropping off my daughter at school this morning and ended up in a conversation with the ex-husband of my ex’s new wife, now my daughter’s stepmother.  He informed me that he hopes I win custody because his ex-wife is sick and has been diagnosed with bi-polar 1 disorder (also known as manic depression) and refuses to take her medication.

He also informed me that their daughter (the stepsister of the same age) told him a story the other day. She said that her mommy snapped on my daughter for not calling her mommy. She yelled and screamed at her that she is not to call her by her name but MUST call her mommy. The wife has also expressed to me in the past that she has a hard time with my daughter.

I spoke to a nurse-friend who has also been diagnosed with bi-polar 1 disorder and asked if my daughter could be in danger if the stepmother is not on proper medication. Her answer alarmed me greatly. She said yes that bi-polar 1 people can snap and go into psychosis and be dangerous. She felt I should call CPS immediately.

My ex has hired an attorney in our case. I cannot afford an attorney but have been advised that will not make the difference. We have shared custody for these five years, but now I feel my daughter needs to be with me more and the stepmother less because when my daughter is supposed to be with her father, she is actually with this women.

What should I do?

Sign me,

Worried Sick in Syracuse


Hi Worried Sick:

There’s a lot of stuff here but I want you to do me a favor; as difficult as this may be, you are going to need to look at what’s really going on versus what you’re hearing. And then from the stuff you’re  hearing, you’re going to need to decide who’s pushing an agenda and who’s telling the truth. Then and only then can you, in my opinion, make a sound and solid decision. Now before you tune me out, HEAR me out….

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Perhaps it’s the journalist in me or maybe the fact that I’m several layers removed but when I read this letter there are a number of things that stick out. Your information about your husband’s new wife and her mental health  is coming from the following sources:

*Her ex-husband
*Her five-year-old daughter, through her ex-husband
*Information about bi-polar 1 disorder in general terms from your friend

Now, when you look at it this way, you see what’s wrong here, don’t you? I’m not saying your ex’s new wife does not have bi-polar 1 disorder, but you have not heard it from a credible, impartial source. You heard it from her ex-husband, who may or may not have an axe to grind. How do we know he’s telling the absolute truth? How do we know he’s not stretching it a bit? How do we know he’s not trying to muck up the situation for his ex? I mean they are ex’s, perhaps there’s some bad blood? It would not be the first time. Then he relates a story to you from his five-year-old daughter who may or may not be embellishing, intentional or otherwise.

You ask your friend about bi-polar disorder and, while I’m not questioning the information she gave you (that can be fact-checked through any number of sources), you do need to realize she’s on your team. Is she giving it to you in a straight-forward manner or is she teasing out the stuff she knows you want to  hear?

Do you see what I’m saying here? I hope so.



Now let’s deal with the facts. These are the only things you know because you have been told or are experiencing them yourself.

*You are involved in a custody case with your ex.
*You do know (though the new wife herself) that she is having some issues dealing with your daughter.

That’s really it. The rest of that information is hearsay, which is a difficult thing on which to build a solid case for custody of your daughter.  Now……



Please understand I am in no way diminishing the serious nature of mental illness and its effect on a family but you need to know the facts, which means it’s time for a heart-to-heart with your ex. I’m not sure what the relationship is like between you two, but reading between the lines, it feels like it might not  be so hot. Put all that aside because this is not about you, this is not about him, this is not about his new wife or who “wins”.  This is about the health and safety of your daughter.

Ask him some pointed questions. Has his wife been diagnosed with bi-polar 1, the most serious form of bi-polar disorder? Is she getting proper treatment? Is she taking mood-stabilizing medication? Does he feel like your daughter is in danger around her? Can he corroborate any of the stories told to you by her ex-husband? Did she explode at your daughter for not calling her mommy? How did he respond to that.. and so on.

Honestly I’m not sure what he is legally obligated to share with you; he may feel like disclosing these things might compromise his wife’s privacy (it’s already become fodder for discussion among some; witness her ex-husband). At that point you may need more help.

While you may not be able to afford an attorney, perhaps you can check with legal aide services in your community. What are you rights in a situation like this? Do they think you need some sort of emergency protective order? Do they recommend you get CPS involved? They’ll be able to help you far more than I can so I would really urge you to reach out to someone there.

One more thing and this is going to be a tough one for you. I  would also ask you to look at yourself and your motives. Are you giving them (the ex and the new wife) a fair shake? Are you assigning too much weight to the word of someone whose intent might not be pure? How did it make  you feel when you heard (albeit from a less-then-impartial source) about the new wife demanding your daughter call her mommy? Take a deep breath and really give those questions some thought.

And just to reiterate, I’m not on anyone’s side but I do want you to know this is serious business so make sure you’re on firm ground going forward.

Good luck mommy!

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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