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The question

My brother is doing his best to embody a line from the film Something's Gotta Give: "I have always told you some version of the truth." He's decided after eight years he'd rather not be married (again). Having been caught in several financial mistruths by his spouse, he nonetheless refuses to come clean, inventing clever ways to prolong the divorce process until his former better half has no choice but to settle for a fraction of what she's owed. We're from a small town where people talk, so I know more about this situation than I probably should. However, knowing what I know, and how this sordid ordeal has negatively affected their children, I'm grappling with being nothing more than a bystander to it all. Obviously, it's none of my business, but how can I stay silent while he gets rewarded for being a cad and his children pay the price? Got any advice?

The answer

"Mistruths." I like that. My computer doesn't put a squiggly line under it, so it must be a real word.

Let's face it: Financial infidelity is all too common in marriages.

It can be as minor as ditching the shopping bag on the way home, slipping on your new shoes, and pretending you've had them forever – "What? These? I've had them for years," trying to imply your spouse is losing her marbles for never noticing them before …

(I confess I've done this, although a female friend assures me that my "losing marbles" ploy is strictly rookie stuff. She says first you play the negligence card – imply your spouse doesn't pay enough attention to your appearance: "You never noticed? I always wear these with my navy suit." Then follow up with what she calls a "defensive counter-thrust" – but which strikes me as more an offensive manoeuvre – "I see you picked up another case of beer last night.")

I have even scuffed fresh-bought shoes for extra authenticity (although my female friend insists this is a strictly male ploy; no woman would ever intentionally scuff shoes).

All very cute and clever and a funny part of the human condition – but when people get divorced, it can turn toxic, serious and even criminal.

I might be influenced by the fact that it upsets me when men behave in a less-than-menschy fashion, because it gives a bad name to the entire gender, but in your shoes, yes, I would indeed have a very serious talk with your brother, for reasons almost too numerous to mention:

  • It’s a crime to hide assets during a divorce, sometimes punishable by jail. Admittedly, that’s rare, but a judge can impose all kinds of sanctions and penalties if he/she finds out one of the two separating spouses has been engaged in this scurrilous practice.
  • It sounds like everyone in your smallish community already knows all about it. If you found out through the town’s grapevine your brother is hiding assets, how long before his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s lawyer (and private detective and forensic accountants, if she has them) sniffs it out?
  • If your brother and his ex get into a prolonged legal battle over assets, you know where tens and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars will go? Lawyers. Lawyers love these prolonged marital battles … Well, that’s probably not 100-per-cent true. I’m sure some lawyers are saddened by these pricey, scorched-earth squabbles, even as their accountants are popping champagne corks and ordering amuse-bouches in the VIP section of their clubs – and their fellow lawyers are coming over and shaking their hands (secretly green with envy): “Congratulations! I heard you caught a really bitter battle over spousal assets!” (Or however they talk.)

And what about if/when your brother's kids find out? How wonderful will that seem to them? Worse, even: What if they follow in his footsteps. Remember, kids learn with their eyes, not their ears. They tune out your lectures and follow your example.

(Harry Chapin: "And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me/ he'd grown up just like me/ My boy was just like me.")

Also, when he looks deep into the eyes of the man in the mirror, what will he see there? If the mirror happens to be the rear-view of his Porsche Cayenne, will he feel like any less of a bastard?

And this might seem like a picayune point, but if the whole town knows, how's that going to affect your brother's future dating life? Women are smart. They compare notes. Therefore, I've always felt, if you want to date one of them, you have to impress them all.

Your brother – hiding assets, trying to wear his wife down so she's forced to accept a lousy settlement – is behaving in far-from-impressive fashion. His behaviour is a bad idea morally, spiritually, financially, romantically, as a father – basically in every conceivable way.

And I'd say it's up to you to try to get him to snap out of it. "Not your business?" Au contraire, mon frère. It's your business, as his brother, as much as anyone's, I'd say. If not yours, whose?

So yes, take him aside, and say: "[His name here], you're being a jerk. And I don't want to be the brother of a jerk. So mensch up, or I may have to kick your ass, just like when we were kids."

You could offer some version of the above – in your own words, obviously – to try to persuade him to straighten up and fly right.

Let's hope he'll see reason and do the right thing, not only by the mother of his children, but also the children themselves.

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