My wife took the kids back to Europe

I followed her to be with my children, although what she did was illegal. Now we're divorcing. Should I stay?

Published November 5, 2010 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Three years ago, my wife went back home to Europe where she is from, on vacation with our two children who were then kindergarten age, and phoned and said she didn't love me anymore and wasn't coming back.

I loved her and my children, and thought she was making a terrible mistake and was perhaps just homesick. I could have simply retrieved my children, as it was illegal of her to take them. Instead I sold our house, quit a fairly prestigious job and came to Europe to try to make the marriage work.

Well, three years later, she has had an affair, and told me again she doesn't love me and wants to separate. She shows no remorse for the affair either. In fact, she hasn't even 100 percent admitted it. I realize that this is not acceptable and our life cannot go on like this, and yet, I feel like I still love her. It isn't fair to me the way she has acted and it isn't fair to our children either. We actually went house hunting shortly before her trip on which she had the affair. The children were looking forward to living in a house again, and having their own rooms, and we both were looking forward to a new quality of life.

I realize I have to let go. I don't want to. But I will. I feel terrible for our two children. Now I must fight for my right to be a part of their lives. In this country the norm is for the children to live with their mother, and the father only visits. I, however, want to be an active part of my children's lives. I want to help them with their homework, I want to be there for them when they are sick, I want to be the person who has to say no to them sometimes, and not just a visiting "uncle." I work from home and have flexible hours, so I can be there for them. I have visited a lawyer to help me -- which my wife, somewhat ironically, said was going behind her back.

I would like to seriously talk to her about a solution, but really, any solution that she doesn't like will pretty much end the discussion. I was not able to save my marriage, but I at least was able to give my children another three years of a fairly normal family life. Now, I can let my wife go, since there is no other choice, but I will not give up my children. I'm alone in a small town, in a foreign country, and worried about the future.

What are your thoughts?

Trying to Do the Right Thing

Dear Trying,

I think you are doing the right thing. You are doing exactly the right thing.

What would the wrong thing be? The wrong thing would be to castigate your wife in front of the kids and then walk out and leave them to her. The wrong thing would be to insist on staying in the house and fight it out with her in front of the kids. There are a thousand things you could do wrong and only a few you can do right. I think you have chosen those few things you can do right.

It's not going to be easy. I hope you have some support. It troubles me that you say you are all alone in this small town in a foreign country. So my thinking is that for the next 10 years or so you will want to be living close to your children, so it's time to concentrate on building a stable life for yourself without your wife. I'm interested in what will happen to your house-buying plans. Will your wife buy a house to live in with the children? Or will they continue to live in what I assume is an apartment?

Do you have the resources to buy a house for yourself, where the children could enjoy long visits? That might work out well. Though, as you say, law and custom generally provide that the children live with their mother, in practice, if your wife sees the advantages of occasional relief from childcare duties, your children might benefit from staying with you for good periods of time.

There's no way to know for sure. So you don't want to overextend yourself. You might find you've bought a house too large for your budget, and then the children don't come around anyway. It's hard to know. But it's a thought.

I'm always happy to provide thoughts, and hope that every now and then they will be useful.

My one wish is that you not be too alone. If you do not speak the local language well, begin studying in earnest. Become a part of your town to the extent it's possible. It will make the next 10 years bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.

Write Your Truth.

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By Cary Tennis

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