Help! I'm being extorted/blackmailed/strong-armed by my sister in law!
July 27, 2008 10:08 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I asked her sister for my wife's wedding dress back. She is refusing to give it to us until we pay her for damage to her car.

Full background: We all live in Chicago (Cook County). There are several different issues going on here, so I'll try to tackle the whole store in order.

Several years ago, my wife moved to NYC and let her sister (Jessica, from here on) use some of the furnature that she wasn't taking with her. It was never Jessica's to keep, and my wife made that clear. My wife had a storage space that her father was letting her use, and she sold some of her furnature (the pieces that Jessica didn't want to use). All in all, my wife let Jessica borrow about $900 in furnature.

A year and a half ago, my wife was driving Jessica's car and scratched it against another car (small scratch, no damage to other car). At the time, I said very clearly that get an estimate as soon as possible and get it to me and that I wanted to get this taken care of asap, and that we would reach an agreement that we're all happy with.

My wife and I spent six months abroad after we got married. Jessica said that she would be fine with holding onto the dress until we got back. We had a LOT of options of places to store it (my parents, my wife's parents, friends who said they would, et cetera).

Two weeks ago we called Jessica and said that because we are back in Chicago and about to move into a new apartment, we are going to need our furnature back. Jessica informed us that it was hers now, and that some of it she had bolted down in her daughter's room, and some of it she had given or thrown away when she decided she no longer needed it.

Yesterday night I called Jessica and said that I would like to schedule pickup of the dress. She told us that she wouldn't give the dress to us until we payed her for the car. She had waited a year and a half, and there is some rust now, so the estimate is a lot more than it would have been otherwise. We told her that we're happy to talk to her about the car an reach an agreement that takes everything into consideration, but not while she is holding the wedding dress hostage and using it as leverage.

Jessica is not backing down at all. Unless we capitulate with her demands, she will not give us the dress back. This isn't the first time she has used the tactic with family. We don't feel we can "reward" this behavior by giving in and paying her off to get what is undeniably OUR PROPERTY back from her.

Any advice on this situation is welcome.
posted by adi to Human Relations (58 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
From this perspective, you might consider just leaving her with the dress, furniture, and scratch in her car and move on with your lives. It is just not worth the agravation that will come from any resolution with the sister, as she has nothing to lose and everything to gain when you capitulate.

Walk away and consider it a life lesson and don't lend or deal with said sister again until she comes to you with no strings attached (which is likely never, so be prepared for that).

Sorry this is happening to you and your wife, but I don't think you are going to be able to force a fair conclusion. If it works out for you two, you will have a bitter and resentful sister-in-law to deal with for the rest of your lives. If it works out for your sister-in-law, you two will harbour an immense amount of hostility towards her.

So, again, walk away. You'll likely be glad it only cost $900 in furniture and a wedding dress (minus what you would have paid for the car) to escape her manipulations.
posted by qwip at 10:18 AM on July 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


Your leverage depends entirely on how badly your wife wants the dress back. If she can live without it, then walk away. If she can't, then she's got you over a barrel, and you'll have to pay her off. In either case, you are probably better off not maintaining close ties to this person. And, no matter how badly you need it, don't EVER ask her for or give anything to her ever again, no matter how small.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:21 AM on July 27, 2008


i agree with qwip. what is at stake just doesn't seem worth a lifetime of aggravation from your SIL. just never deal with her again.
posted by violetk at 10:22 AM on July 27, 2008


What a crappy situation to be in. I would suck up the cost of the furniture, but I would definitely try to get the dress back. Hell, just call the cops on her and have them come to her door. If she wants to go ahead and file a claim about the scratch on her car, let her and just deal with that situation then.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:23 AM on July 27, 2008


It seems as if you are looking for a legal answer. If thats the case, take her to small claims court in NY. I doubt you want to do that though, since this is family.

If I were you, I'd just write her a letter (way better than phone calls because you have time to remember everything, write it down, with backup, and you can take as long as you want to write it so that your emotional side doesnt come out). Tell her what you are willing to give her, and what she should give you. Tell her anything else is unacceptable. End the letter.

Thats all.

If she doesn't agree or doesnt comply. Oh well. You're out $900 of furniture (which you NEVER should have given a person who has a history of extortion/blackmail/strong arming.

Also, WHY was your wife driving her car (rhetorical)? If she's crazy like you say...you should just expect drama every time you need a favor from her. You should have taken the car to get an estimate yourself and gotten it fixed. Why should she have to deal with the hassle of the estimate, getting it fixed, etc because your wife scratched the car? Thats kinda inconsiderate of you.

Regarding the wedding dress: Its basically a memento. Its a reminder of the wedding, your love, blah blah. Your wife sure as heck isn't going to wear it. Best case scenario, it would remain in your closet in a translucent bag. You should look at it as "its just something we want to exist". Since its just going to exist, and you both aren't going to sit down on a friday night and count the frills on it, let her keep it. Sometime in the near (or far) future, when she realizes, she can't hold the dress over you, she'll say "oh...well here take it back, its taking my closet space". You'll get it back unless she's a total bitch and burns it. I only see this, if she has done something like this in the past (I don't think she has). You'll get the dress back. Just don't act like its gone forever. WHY, again, did you let her keep the dress when you had other options? Seriously. You need to think through your decisions next time.

So yeah. Thats that. Good luck. Next time, think things through before you carry a snake in your pocket.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:38 AM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Most of the solutions so far discard the relationship with the sister.
Unless it was toxic to begin with, that relationship could last a lifetime
as is more valuable than a dress or a furniture.
Get the car fixed. You said you would. What happens after that is up
to your sister. If you get the dress back, then you'll still have a sister.
If you don't, then she decided to discard your relationship with her.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2008


This doesn't quite add up. (I get that you were probably trying to sum up for brevity. Please don't take the following as accusatory, just trying to figure out what happened here.)

Was everything fine between your wife and Jessica (understanding about the furniture still mutual, etc.) UNTIL this accident? Meaning, is this a sudden change in attitude as payback for your wife scratching the car and letting it go unrepaired? This would be petty, but at least make some kind of sense to me.

If your wife and Jessica's relationship was iffy to begin with, I don't understand why you two were giving her ammunition -- something sentimental to hold over your heads. But then again, you said that you were willing to "discuss" the car repairs, but somehow this apparently never happened? I take it that Jessica was waiting for you to repair the car because you said you would?

But maybe I'm reading this wrong. Are you and your wife an united front in this, or have you stepped in to negotiations that were once between her and her sister? What's their relationship like?
posted by desuetude at 10:40 AM on July 27, 2008


From Ms. Vegetable:
What about a mediator?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:41 AM on July 27, 2008


Maybe this would be a good situation in which to bring in a mediator, volunteer or otherwise. Look for a mediation center in your area.

Here's the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago. A Q/A page about their services says that, in most cases, their services are free.

Good luck!
posted by amtho at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


What a crappy situation to be in. I would suck up the cost of the furniture, but I would definitely try to get the dress back. Hell, just call the cops on her and have them come to her door. If she wants to go ahead and file a claim about the scratch on her car, let her and just deal with that situation then.

Are you out of your mind? Or is the advice so ridiculous that you're offering it knowing it will never be taken, as some kind of literary act?

The furniture is a lost cause. I assume your wife really wants the dress back. She did damage the car. If (after explaining that the size of the bill is largely her fault) Jessica asks for more than your wife values the dress, tell Jessica she can keep the dress and drape it over the scratch.

Don't worry about teaching her a lesson -- someone who is willing to behave in this way is already slow to learn, and will always have the upper hand. Just minimize your exposure to her behavior, with whatever explanation you feel appropriate, while avoiding collateral damage to family relations as a whole. My two cents, anyway.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2008


hal_c_on - the sister may hold on to the dress until she gets mad about something else, then burn it or give it away "because it's taking up space" or let her daughter's friends play dress-up in it out in the mud. Just something to consider.
posted by amtho at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2008


You and your wife need to decide what your actual goal is, and take steps accordingly. Right now it seems like you have several competing goals.

Is it getting the dress back? Then comply with her demand.

Is it being right and teaching her a lesson? Then tell her to fuck off, you won't give in to blackmail.

It is minimizing drama? Then walk away from the dress, give her what you think is fair for the car, and drastically limit future contact with her.

Is it salvaging a family relationship? Then try sitting down with her and a mediator.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2008 [9 favorites]


call her and ask her to get a repair estimate. write her a check. give her the check. get the dress back and any other belongings you can at that time. as you give her the check, say, "i think everything should be settled between us. we are sorry that caring for our belongings has been such a burden to you, and please rest easy knowing we will never ask you to be responsible for anything important to us ever again."
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:46 AM on July 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


Feel like being on TV? This sounds like Judge Judy or some such would be all over it. They pay fees, and you get a plane ticket and a hotel room. I think some of those shoot in Chicago, anyway. Let the people decide.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


+1 ottereroticist. You've got to figure out your priorities.

My feeling is that whatever else happens, you should take care of the car so that's not hanging over you. I'm not sure I'd go to a mediator (I guess that would depend), but I would ask the sister what point she was trying to make by holding the dress hostage, and if it was really worth poisoning her relationship with family to make it.

If she won't back down, document the agreement, pay her off, get the dress back, and be done with her. If she will back down, maybe the relationship can be saved.
posted by adamrice at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2008


Just to be clear about the car, the reason I'm hesitant to pay that off is because she ALSO owes us for the furnature.

If anything, our only interest is the dress, but we are willing to let that go.
posted by adi at 11:05 AM on July 27, 2008


Are you out of your mind? Or is the advice so ridiculous that you're offering it knowing it will never be taken, as some kind of literary act?

No I'm not out of my mind, this is what I would do in this situation although I would have paid for the scratch in the car as soon as it happened. I don't tolerate people like that and I would have no interest in salvaging any kind of relationship with such a toxic person, family or not. My brother stole something of significant value from me once. I got it back by taking it back when he wasn't around. He was storing the item at a mutual friend's house. I didn't talk to my brother for a year and a half and had no intentions of ever doing so but he eventually talked to me and apologized. Our relationship is fine now.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2008


The furniture is just gone at this point. You thought it was a loan, she thought it was a gift, things have been sold and damaged; there is no way to get back what you gave her. Treat that as a learning experience (don't let her borrow any of your stuff) and move on.

Deal with the car first -- you did the damage, and you need to pay for it. I don't know your finances, and I don't know how big the scratch really is or how much rust there now is, but if the difference is relatively minor in the global scheme of things (like the first quote was $1000 and the quote now is $1500), then I'd say just pay it and again treat it as a learning experience (don't borrow anything of hers).

Then, once you have paid for the damage you caused her car a year ago, get the dress back. Hopefully it's as simple as her putting it in a box and sending it, but maybe it'll take family intervention or nasty letters or something to get her to let go of it.

Yes, she sounds a bit nutty. But then again, from her point of view maybe it looks like you dumped a bunch of crappy furniture on her rather than pay to store it; damaged her car and won't make any gestures towards paying it until she held the dress hostage; and are now wanting the dress back before even agreeing to negotiate on the car damage. I'm not saying that that is the correct version -- just that it might look that way from her point of view. Resolve the easy part (ignore the furniture and pay for the car) and then see about the tricky part (the dress and whether or not you will ever talk to her again).
posted by Forktine at 11:10 AM on July 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


MaryDellaMorte,

I should have been more civil, or at least more exact in cutting and pasting. I was referring to calling the police. Taking stuff back yourself seems relatively restrained, at least if it doesn't involve breaking and entering.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2008


Is Jessica having money problems or some other problems? If so, try dealing with those either directly or indirectly. She may be feeling as if the world is against and she has to fight for every scrap she can get, no matter who it's from. If that's the case and you guys are willing to go this route, try to help her in some form or fashion. Don't specifically ask for the dress or other stuff back, just let it go for now and focus on letting her know she's not alone and doesn't have to fight so hard.

To put it bluntly, if you guys spent six months abroad for your honeymoon, this may sound to some people like you're rich and therefore, they feel entitled or want some of your money. Yeah, you guys might have sleeping in hostels, bathing once a week and buying day old bread to survive, but to some people, going abroad for six months sounds like something rich people to do.

If that's not the case and Jessica has a history of being the uberbitch of the family, then consider this:

Jessica is not backing down at all.

This isn't the first time she has used the tactic with family.

What has worked in the past? Try that. If you don't want to do that, then consider the dress a lost cause, the relationship damaged and then stop borrowing things from her or giving her things or letting her hold things for you.

On preview:
Just to be clear about the car, the reason I'm hesitant to pay that off is because she ALSO owes us for the furnature.

Consider it a loss and valuable lesson learned about who to trust in your family. Pay for the damaged car and then get dress back , otherwise tell her "fuck you" and call it a day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


What thinkingwoman said.
posted by Science! at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2008


It seems like you all are being quite harsh on Sis. That's quite a long time to leave the furniture in her care, and a VERY long time to keep her waiting for the car accident $$$. I know you might have wanted her to provide an estimate the next day, but she might not have wanted to bother you, especially with the wedding and all of the moving plans. Asking family for money is not an easy task, and you're making it even harder on her. She didn't get into the accident. If you guys were proactive about paying her, I doubt she'd be holding onto the dress.

If she called you in Europe and said "Hey, I no longer need this stuff, I want to buy my own," would you have sent a mover to pick up the stuff and arranged for commercial storage for all those months? How much would that have cost? More than $900 I'd wager. Asking another family member to pick it up and store it elsewhere (safe, no bugs, no warping from the heat/cold, no water damage) would be a HUGE favor, and I doubt even your closest family would take you up on that one. From Sis's perspective, she provided free furniture storage for two years and may have considered it abandoned by that point. Used furniture way way way less than you paid for it, which is probably why you let Sis use it instead of selling it in the first place. ("Ouch! I paid $300 for that, I don't want to tag sale it for $50!!!")

Give poor sis a break, pay her for the damage your wife stuck her with a year and a half ago, and get some new furniture. If you're really hurting for money, ask Sis if she'd be willing to pay what you would have gotten for it on Craigslist. If she says yes, great, if not, chalk it up against what you would have paid for storage costs (or the goodwill of other family members).
posted by Gable Oak at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Let's take another look here at the circumstances, I think, from what might be your sister in law's vantage point.

Your wife moved to New York. She left furniture she wanted but didn't want to take with her to New York. She then prevailed upon her sister to hold onto it for her, which her sister did. You are looking at this as a favor your wife did for her sister; you might also look at it as a favor your wife's sister did for her. You say she got $900 worth of furniture. What is the amount you think you saved in storage fees by having your wife's sister take on your wife's furniture for that period of time?

Your wife damaged her sister's car. You then told the sister to get an estimate on your timetable. Though annoying that she waited as long as she did, the bottom line is that you did not repair her car after your wife damaged it. I can see why her sister is still peeved about that, regardless of her own negligent behavior in waiting so long that there is now more damage to the car than there might have otherwise been. The minimized link in your story here is that your wife was borrowing her sister's car. This, too, is a favor your wife's sister did for her and, in so doing, her car ended up damaged.

You all left the country for six months and prevailed upon your wife's sister to keep personal items. That is a favor your wife's sister did for her. You then gave her two weeks notice to reclaim all of the items you left with her - furniture, clothes, etc., which had been in her care for over a year and a half. Two weeks notice is not very much notice at all. Again, this is your timetable you are expecting your sister to conform to.

You might think of adopting a more charitable outlook toward your wife's sister because, though she may have benefitted from having furniture for a year and a half, she was certainly doing her sister a favor by taking it all on. She was also doing her a favor letting her borrow her car, and holding onto her personal possessions while the two of you lived overseas.

Were I you, I'd pay for the car to be fixed, thank her for helping you out while you and your wife went about your business, and consider renting your own storage space and not involving other family members the next time you need to store things for extended periods of time.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2008 [11 favorites]


The reason we didn't get the car fixed was she said she was going to take care of it the week it happened. I told her that we would take care of it, and she said that she would get the estimate and let us know. Time passed and she didn't do it, and by then, we were out of the country.

We absolutely had people who were willing to store the furniture for us when she was "done with it," and some of the furniture she still refuses to return to us. Paying her off when A. She owes US money and B. She is using our property as leverage is unacceptable to us.
posted by adi at 12:07 PM on July 27, 2008


People usually overestimate the value of furniture. If it was valuable to you, you never would have left it with her. The monetary value is only an issue now that there are other matters at stake.

She really goofed up with the car, and the shit with the dress is unreal. By negotiating with someone so unreasonable, you wind up validating their complaints. What she's doing is invalid, and needs to be handled as such. This needs to stop being about money and start being about the personal relationships at stake.

Let her know that she has violated your trust and made an effort to deliberately destroy the happy memories of your wedding. Tell her that you know this can't really be about the money, because the amounts involved are so minor, and that if she has personal issues with you and your wife, you would consider a mediator or therapy an option, but only if she surrenders the dress unharmed. If she is unwilling or unable to do this, refuse to argue about it and let her know that you won't have any contact with her until she gives up the dress. And then keep your word, no matter how long it takes.

This IS a lifelong relationship, and you shouldn't hastily throw it away, but unless a person can give you the basic courtesy and respect a family relationship deserves, then they need a time-out.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 12:10 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do you really want your wife and her sister to tell each other to fuck off over $900 in furniture and a wedding dress? It's a total waste. There's error on both sides of the equation here and you're going to have to give a little to get what you want. Yes, strong-arming is passive aggressive and crappy; but are you unwilling to see that she was doing your wife favors as much as she was being granted favors by your wife? It's understandable that you're angry here, but digging in and refusing to fix the car now is only going to turn this into a big, dramatic rift that will linger. She's being petty by threatening to destroy your wife's dress, absolutely. But, from where I'm sitting, you are still minimizing the fact that your wife damaged her sister's car while she was borrowing it. Why didn't your wife take the car to a garage right then, have it fixed or get an estimate for fixing it, and then write a check before you left the country for six months?

Have the car fixed.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 12:19 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


You don't want to reward her, but you also shouldn't cut off your nose to spite your face. Getting your stuff back and giving her appropriate consequences for her behaviour may be conflicting goals, so keep in mind that they don't have to both be satisfied by the same action.

I'd probably start by seeking the approach that gets you the most of your stuff back, even if it "rewards" her. After that, you avoid the possibility of ever finding yourself in this situation again, which will be a more long-term consequence for her than losing this one particular battle.
posted by winston at 12:20 PM on July 27, 2008


Your story has a big hole in it - the 12 months between the accident and you moving to europe. Did she get an estimate or ask for the money? If not I'd say that ship has long since sailed.
Realistically, you're not going to win this one unless you want the dress less than she wants the car fixing and by the sounds of it, she doesn't care about the car at all. You could try saying she can deduct the cost of the car repairs from the money she owes you for the furniture but thats unlikely to get you anywhere - other than making the point that the furniture had value and wasn't hers to give away or destroy.
Without any legal documentation though its your word against hers in what any agreements you had.
posted by missmagenta at 12:20 PM on July 27, 2008


You've said that paying her off when she is using your property as leverage is unacceptable to you. So what exactly is your question? If you're not willing to pay her off the alternative is to write off the furniture and dress and never lend or give her anything again. Those seem the only choices if you're not considering pursuing very radical paths like getting the police involved.

Since you've ruled out paying her, you're left with considering the furniture and dress as gone.
posted by Justinian at 12:20 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


If she returned the wedding dress and the furniture would you still get her car fixed? Or, are you now unwilling to get the car fixed because there is rust damage? If you are willing to fix her car, do it. Get your stuff back.

I personally would let the furniture go. Does the furniture hold sentimental value for you or your wife? If not, I would let the sister have the furniture. Especially, if you're pulling a couch out from under her. Don't ruin relationships over 900 bucks. (If you had to sell it would you be able to get 900 dollars for it?) Don't go tit for tat with family. Get the car fixed and be done with it.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2008


The reason we didn't get the car fixed was she said she was going to take care of it the week it happened. I told her that we would take care of it, and she said that she would get the estimate and let us know. Time passed and she didn't do it, and by then, we were out of the country.

And...then what? She never let you know the estimate, so you figured she didn't want you to fix the damage anymore? Is that likely?

Just to be clear about the car, the reason I'm hesitant to pay that off is because she ALSO owes us for the furnature.

If anything, our only interest is the dress, but we are willing to let that go.


So, I'm reading this as you don't want to give her a dime because you're mad about the furniture, but your wife wants to negotiate because she wants her wedding dress back. How many discussions are taking place? Your wife with her sister, you with her sister, you with your wife...do any of you agree on what actually happened here and what the best outcome would be?

What does your wife think? Does she want a relationship with her sister or what? Because based on your descriptions, it seems to be that both sides are being passive-aggressive.
posted by desuetude at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


You are lumping all the issues into one big pile of resentment.

Separate them out, and deal with them separately.

You owe her for the car, regardless of the furniture or the dress. Pay her. If she won't get a quote, ballpark it and write a check for that (and if you want to be all legalistic get some letter written up that says "by cashing this check you relinquish all claims" or whatever, though I don't think that that kind of thing really holds any water in a family dispute, even if it is good in court). Don't wait for her to do something first, and don't do some math with the car and the furniture and so on -- just pay her what you owe her, because that is the ethical thing to do.

Then deal with the dress and the furniture. Honestly, I can't see how she can owe you anything for the furniture (especially considering the money you saved on storage), but maybe it was particularly valuable furniture that actually had some resale value? I still say write that off as a learning experience and a failure in communication (and a lapse in judgment on your part, to have given the furniture to her at all), but if you really want to, get a mediator involved, get things valued, get estimates of what storage would have cost, and hash it out from there.

Regardless, once you pay for the car, but before you get into a huge fight over the furniture, get the dress back. Paying for the car takes away her need to hold onto the dress -- if she won't give it up then, you will know it isn't really about the money and instead is about something else (and in family fights, that can be about some stupid issue from 30 years ago -- this stuff may not be rational at all). But you can only figure that out after you pay for the damage to the car, which you should have been proactive about a year ago.

Yes, she was supposed to send an estimate... but the really polite thing to do is to keep on her case about it, or to just preemptively offer an amount to compensate for the damage and her trouble. It's what I would do if I damaged your car and I suspected that you were being too polite to send the bill to me. When you damage some stranger's car in a parking lot, then yes, you pay the minimum to make the problem go away. When it is someone you know, you do the right thing and do what it takes to make their car nice again and make sure that they are compensated for the trouble it caused them. You've been ducking this for a long time, and need to step up and make it right.
posted by Forktine at 12:40 PM on July 27, 2008 [5 favorites]


She's being petty by threatening to destroy your wife's dress,

I must have missed this part. It's petty enough that she won't return it, but she is threatening to destroy it?

I still say to fix the car ASAP, get your stuff, and don't entrust sister with valuables in the future. You and your wife have an opportunity to be the more mature people in this mess. You owed her a car repair in the past, and you still do now.

Like others said, I don't think she cares about the car but she obviously feels ripped off or cheated in some way.

I don't know if the sister would be willing to cooperate but you could offer to do a trade. She keeps the furniture and repairs the car on her own dime.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2008


I've seen the outcome of a very similar situation in my family. I think you need to sit this one out and let your wife handle her sister the way she wants to, and support her decision. I say this because I'm reading several different things into this: you say that you and your wife don't want to be strong armed, but your wife is willing to negotiate about the dress. Is your wife just going along with your opinion to avoid being put in the middle, or does she dislike her sister's tactics as well? The way I've seen this end up is with one person getting what they want, but losing the relationship with their sibling because of it. Is getting the dress (and the furniture) without paying for the car damage worth losing a relationship? That's the question your wife needs to ask herself, because if she doesn't negotiate with her sister, that's probably what's going to happen.
posted by blueskiesinside at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2008


Get the estimate for the car repair and deduct $450 for the furniture. (Half its worth seems a decent compromise there.) Go to Jessica's place, give her the cash and pick up the wedding dress. Express your sincere gratitude for her holding the furniture and dress for you, your apologies again for damaging the car, and your happiness that this is all settled and behind you now. Chalk it up as a lesson learned and don't let it happen again.
posted by platinum at 1:06 PM on July 27, 2008


Pay for the car. How do you know the price of the damage without the rust? You dont. Body work is always expensive. youre just assuming that a little rust means a bigger pricetag. It probably does but not that much more. Ask her to get a second estimate if you think shes being ripped off.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:35 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let me offer a different opinion re: the furniture.

It is totally unreasonable for you to expect someone to store furniture for you for "several years" and then return it to you on two weeks notice, especially if it was something your wife was allowing your sister-in-law to use in her household. I really don't think Jessica is out of line wanting to keep it after all of this time. How would you like if someone came to your house and cleaned it out leaving you with nothing?

Re: the car: I have a feeling you thought you might be able to get away with not paying for it, so when Jessica didn't get you an estimate right away, you just let it slide. You shouldn't have.
Pay for the repair.

It just seems, reading your post, that there's a lot we're not hearing about the relationship between your wife and her sister, and I think it might be best if you stay out of it.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:39 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, my wife and I are totally on the same page. She is in no way willing to negotiate while Jessica is holding the dress hostage. If anything, my wife is more resolute than me on this point (and I'm a brick wall on this point). We had free storage lined up for the furniture, as well as the option to sell it then. My wife passed on both to let Jessica BORROW the furniture.

We wanted the furniture back because we are now moving into a new apartment and need the furniture (that we would have had free storage for, remember). So the cost to us to buy new furniture instead of using furniture that we already had but Jessica is refusing to give us is high.

If Jessica would have asked us at any point prior to the furniture and dress drama to deal with the car, we would have been happy to take care if it. That was before she refused to return our furniture and our wedding dress, though. Now that she is trying to strong arm us into paying her whatever she wants, we are unwilling. Our position is that we will sit down and talk with her about the car, but that conversation happens after we get the dress back. As long as she is trying to use the dress as leverage, we will not participate. She has done this over and over again in the family, and we cannot reward this behavior with capitulation. The message is more important than the dress, to us.

This thread is helping me see different sides to this though, so thank you!
posted by adi at 1:45 PM on July 27, 2008


If it were me, honestly, I'd go over to the house and talk about it in person. This may all seem a little more silly when she is sitting across from you saying that she is keeping your dress until you pay for the car.

The way I'd do it is this. Let her vent her anger and anything else she has to say while remaining as calm as possible. Then tell her you've arranged for her car to be repaired by a local shop and that you've paid in advance- ideally one in her neighborhood. Tell her that they can fit her in at 9 o'clock on Monday (or whenever you've secured an appointment) or she can change the appointment to a time that would be more convenient for her. Hand her a business card for the repair shop with the appointment and a contact name written on it.

State that while you're there, you're going to pick up the dress, and thank her again for hanging on to it.

Once your wife is holding the dress, tell her what you've told us about the furniture- that not having it makes moving back to Chicago difficult. What about telling her she can keep the furniture that is in the kid's room (saying that your nephew/niece would probably miss it, setting yourselves up as more sympathetic characters) and that you really do need your other furniture back. Say that you understand that it will be inconvenient for her to have to get more furniture to replace the ____ and offer to let her use the moving truck you will be renting next week. Offer to help her pick up new stuff that she finds on craigslist/whatever and suggest you all have a moving party. All the family is invited and you will have a potluck after furniture has been transferred from Jessica's place to your place and from wherever to Jessica's place.

I'd avoid doing all of this by phone- in fact, I'd suggest you avoid it. It is easier to get all riled up through email, letters, and on the phone. But if you're sitting face to face (maybe with additional neutrally-perceived family member sitting in as a mediator) it might be easier to find an arrangement that suits you all.

After this, never let Jessica be responsible for anything of yours ever again. I'd suggest not giving her a spare key to your place, or if you do, having it be one that doesn't work. Even though both of you are probably pretty worked up about the situation, I don't see how telling her that she's being a manipulative so-and-so will help you achieve any of your goals except allowing you to vent your spleen. As tempting as it is, you don't need to be responsible for fixing her, you can just make sure you're not part of the drama next time it occurs.

Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's irrelevant that you could have stored the furniture for free elsewhere, because you didn't.

By your own account, it's been several years. If I loan something to someone and they end up keeping it for several years, I really don't ever expect to have it returned, because that's just not reasonable after that amount of time.

How many years has your sister-in-law had that stuff, anyway?
posted by MegoSteve at 2:02 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unless the furniture is important beyond it's minimal monetary value, I would just let it go. I mean, who let's people "borrow" furniture anyway? Unless you were very explicit I could understand how she now feels that it's hers. It's partial your own fault for not taking advantage of the "free storage" - so... sorry on that point.

As for the damage to "Jessica's" car - you did it, you should pay for it. Oh, Jessica waited too long to get an estimate? Well, tough nuts. You should have been on her ass this whole time.

And the wedding dress? Well, that's a bizarre twist ain't it?

Fact is ole' Jessica probably feels like she up against the wall here. You guys up and are gone for years, and then show back up demanding the furniture you gave her (in her mind) as well as the dress she has stored for you all this time while you haven't even began to pay for the damages done to her car...

You've got yourself a big'ole mess here and yeah your sister-in-law is being an immature, scatter brained, ninny, but much of this is of your own making.

You and your wife should either write the whole thing off and distance yourself from her, or you two should sit down for drinks and hammer out a compromise. Let her keep the furniture in exchange for returning the dress and meeting you half way on the car repair. Sometime like that is the only way you can work this out.

Remember used furniture, unless it is exceptional, branded, and collectible, has little resell value, so I'm skeptical of your $900 claim. Ditto for a used wedding dress too. So don't let the money drive your choices - it's important, but this is your family we're talking about here.
posted by wfrgms at 2:07 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


She has done this over and over again in the family, and we cannot reward this behavior with capitulation.

if she has repeatedly done this to the family in the past, what made you think it would be a good idea to let her keep the furniture and/or the dress for you? from your description, she sounds a bit of a twat and there isn't a huge amount you can do for someone who's gotten to the point where they are holding a dress hostage.

if you are not interested in letting the entire thing go and not ever dealing with her again in terms of lending/borrowing things between you/your wife and her, then i agree with you in that there should be no negotiating until you get the dress back—which i don't see as all that likely, given what you have described. if that does happen, you can negotiate with her to either pay for the car body work and get your furniture back, less what you agree would be the value of the furniture that has been damaged or given away (and negotiating that with her sounds like it would be another trial), or allow her to keep the furniture as payment for the cost of fixing the car (and that way you can spend the money you would have spent on the car to buy yourselves new furniture).
posted by violetk at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2008


You owe for the car. Pay for the car. That she may or may not be violating other promises with you and your wife does not change the fact that you owe for the car. Don't wait for the estimate, do a ballpark and send a check. Then you're in the clear, on the high road, etc., with respect to the other issues.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Geez, reading your additional comments, this sounds even more fraught with potential to _never get better_. I'm re-iterating my suggestion for mediation.
posted by amtho at 2:43 PM on July 27, 2008


Paying her off when A. She owes US money and B. She is using our property as leverage is unacceptable to us.

she's giving anything back -- not the bolted-down/destroyed furniture, and not the dress if you don't pay her. you answered your own question there, you can't change people, period. say goodbye to the dress, and do what you think it's right re: paying the car damage.

it's also not mandatory to have a necessarily nice -- or even cordial -- relationship with siblings no matter what they do, so the people who insist on the fact that omfg she's family, omfg, she's family, are a little over-dramatic. she doesn't sound like someone who can bring a lot of good stuff in your life anyway.
posted by matteo at 3:02 PM on July 27, 2008


she's not giving anything back, sorry-
posted by matteo at 3:03 PM on July 27, 2008


You owe for the car. No question about it. You should have taken care of all of that yourself before you left. Having her get an estimate and deal with the b.s. involved was selfish and rude.

You don't want the furniture. If you do, you shouldn't. To ask for it back after this length of time is petty and bizarre.

The dress - okay, yes, it's inappropriate and mean and shitty for her to keep it as collateral. But to be honest, you and your wife sound just as bad. Pay for the car. Stop trying to get the furniture or the proceeds from its sales back. And get the dress. Then, don't engage in these activities with her any more. Neither one of you seems equipped to handle these things.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:17 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me as if (a) Jessica is either very angry with you, or Jessica has some legitimate psychological issues she's dealing with, and (b) you and your wife aren't willing to compromise here.

I see two options: work out a truce, or take her to court. It sounds to me is you're more inclined to do the latter, but I'd like to propose that you do the former first, and have the latter as a backup.

While I see things your way, one poster (I can't readily find it right now) put it very well when pointing out that Jessica probably sees you guys as if you've refused to fix her car (even though you offered to pay for it and she didn't do anything), and that you gave her your furniture (even though you didn't) and that you're now trying to take it back (even though that was the deal all along).

It might be worth another meeting, face-to-face, and cordial, if not friendly. I'm a big believer in apologizing for anything there is to apologize for. You're sorry that her car didn't get taken care of when it should have, and you should have followed up to make sure she had taken care of it. (There's a fine line there: you don't take on blame for the rust, but apologize that things went the way they did, but you also don't actually point a finger at her and call it her fault.) You're sorry that you guys didn't keep in touch to see that she no longer needed some of the furniture, which you had left with her because you thought she wanted it. You're sorry that you guys are having a disagreement, when you love her so much and she's such a great person (even if it's a lie)...

Don't view it as "giving in"—you very specifically don't want to accept actual blame for any specific incidents, but you're apologizing for how she feels, and all that. Instead, you're trying to neutralize her anger so that you can have a reasonable discussion.

I think a lot of negotiations are psychological, as evidenced by her continued anger at you. So don't let your anger show. I think you're right to be angry, and I think you're in the right here, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be super-polite and work out a compromise.

But keep small claims court in your back pocket. Don't tell her it's an option, as it'll sound like a threat and also ruin your element of surprise. Have the friendly discussion to try to set things right, and either walk out happy, or walk out expressing sadness that you couldn't work things out, but don't give into the temptation to be angry, or to say, "See you in court."

I don't know the rules of evidence in small claims court, much less specifically how oral evidence is treated in your state... It sounds to me as if things are all in your favor—you owe her for the scratch, but not the rust, which occurred due to her inaction. And it sounds to me as if she owes you your furniture and wedding dress, plus compensation for what she discarded. However, do you have any evidence that you told her to fix the damage and you're reimburse her at the time, or any evidence that she took the furniture knowing it was a loan for her benefit? (Bailment is the legal term you want, specifically a bailment in which she was the primary beneficiary, which raises her duty of care: if she had generously agreed to house your furniture because you couldn't find a warehouse, she'd have a low duty of care; if she'd agreed to house your furniture in return for its use, she'd have an 'average' duty of care; but you agreed to let her use your furniture even though you could have put it somewhere else at no charge, meaning it was primarily for her benefit, meaning she has the highest duty of care, meaning that throwing it away isn't acceptable.) Oh, IANAL, I just took a couple law classes and play one on AskMeFi. ;)

If you do end up in court, BTW:
(a) I think you risk being seen as a pariah in your family, so you'd probably want to discuss the issue with them ahead of time. I have no idea how your family feels about Jessica. However, doing that also has the (strong) potential to be interpreted as you "badmouthing" her to the whole family, so tread carefully. (Under no circumstances should you tell anyone you're going to take her to court before she's been served the paperwork!)
(b) Make sure you dress up nicely and appear as a friendly, loving couple who's sad that it had to come to court. I get a mental image of Judge Judy-type shows (which your case is ideal for), where you have crazy-lady ranting on one side, against a charismatic, well-dressed, articulate couple on the other side. Even though judges are supposed to be impartial, you want to make sure you come across as positively as you can, so don't allow yourselves to seem angry or bitter.

Again, I'm not a lawyer, nor do I know the first thing about small claims courts in Chicago. I'm merely expressing my opinion about how I'd proceed if a friendly attempt at reconciliation with Jessica failed.
posted by fogster at 5:15 PM on July 27, 2008


I agree with whoever said this is a case for Judge Judy.
posted by konolia at 6:25 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jessica sounds mentally ill.

I don't agree with commenters who say, "You left the furniture with her too long, you shouldn't expect it back." She's family --- she shouldn't begrudge you the furniture that belongs to you. If it's bolted to the floor, it can be unbolted. She's had free use of the furniture for a good while now, and that's a benefit she has enjoyed. She should be grateful and should return it to you.

And for the commenter who said, "People tend to overvalue furniture..." If someone has nice furniture, it is valuable. Yes, it is reasonable to want it back.

If the poster left a piece of jewelry with Jessica, it wouldn't be unreasonable to want it back, would it? Why is furniture any different? Good furniture is often more expensive than nice jewelry!

As for the wedding dress --- cut her a reasonable check for the cost of the damage when it occurred (not including the cost of the repairs for rust). Send her the check. Include a note giving her a deadline for returning the dress. If she doesn't return the dress by a deadline, take her to small claims court or the nearest equivalent.
posted by jayder at 6:29 PM on July 27, 2008


As I've thought more about this, I want to point out that you both are using debt as leverage in this situation. While she "seems" to be in the wrong, you need to step back and see that your tactic -- not paying for the damage you inflicted on her car until after the dress is returned -- isn't really that different from her refusing to give back the dresd until her car is paid for. Your stalemate defies simple blame, it belongs to you both.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


In regards to the last comment, this simply isn't true. The amount we owe her is a conversation that needs to be had in light of the fact that she also owes us for the furniture. That the dress is ours is clear as day. Our property, no debate there, no conversation there. Huge difference between the two. She is using the dress (which is ours and not in dispute) to force us to ignore the furniture part of the financial conversation.
posted by adi at 8:10 PM on July 27, 2008


In regards to the last comment, this simply isn't true. The amount we owe her is a conversation that needs to be had in light of the fact that she also owes us for the furniture. That the dress is ours is clear as day. Our property, no debate there, no conversation there. Huge difference between the two. She is using the dress (which is ours and not in dispute) to force us to ignore the furniture part of the financial conversation.

What I think a lot of people are getting at is that the furniture is not a clear-cut "she owes you money" situation, and treating it as such is hurting your argument. And then you keep talking about being willing to have a conversation about the car and the furniture. Not willing to settle the dispute, but willing to "have a conversation." This makes it sound as if you're not willing to talk to Jessica at all unless she agrees to various points.

If you really just want to settle this as a clear-cut property dispute, just take her to court. But the language you using here seems a big cagey in terms of how people conduct personal relationships, and if you're using this language with Jessica, you're possibly contributing to compounded resentment on both sides.
posted by desuetude at 8:21 PM on July 27, 2008


This is the kind of stuff that reminds me why I don't talk to my father's family anymore.

You said you did her a favour by loaning her the furniture. If you made it clear that they were only borrowing it, then it doesn't matter one bit what she "thought" was happening; she didn't listen to you. If she needed it, she should have used the furniture until she could afford to buy more. If she didn't want it anymore, she should have given it to whomever was willing to store it for free, instead of giving it away. Unless you had contacted her in the interim and said "hey, this is now yours", she agreed to an unspecified borrowing time. I can only imagine that if she'd contacted you and said the stuff was a burden, you would have done something to keep it.

You also told her you'd pay for the car. That she didn't get an estimate isn't your fault; were you supposed to throw an unspecified amount of money at her for it? At most, you could have contacted her a couple of times in the intervening time period, said "so, where's that estimate?", but the fact that you didn't get what you needed in order to reimburse her properly is again, not your fault.

Yeah, she's family, but if this is the kind of person she is then I'd imagine much of your wife's family is also fed up with her. Do you really want to roll over and take whatever she gives, apologise profusely for her mistakes, just to maintain the family relationship with a brat who manipulates everyone to her own advantage? Teach her a lesson; go to small claims court. There are advisors there who can tell you what you need to do/bring in order to make your case as strong as possible.

With regards to the dress, I'd contact the local PD and see what your options are. Tell them the circumstances, and see if you can get a cop to come with you to her house to get your dress back. Ideally she wouldn't argue with a uniform, but you're doubly covered if you've outlined the situation to them and they've agreed to join you.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 8:32 PM on July 27, 2008


In regards to the last comment, this simply isn't true. The amount we owe her is a conversation that needs to be had in light of the fact that she also owes us for the furniture. That the dress is ours is clear as day. Our property, no debate there, no conversation there. Huge difference between the two. She is using the dress (which is ours and not in dispute) to force us to ignore the furniture part of the financial conversation.

I understand what you are saying, but I don't think that it is a productive approach, and is arguably not the ideal path from an ethical perspective.

Really, these things can be separated.

a) You owe her money for the car. You need to pay her. Sure, she may owe you money, too, but instead of coming up with one big final amount, you can pay her first and collect your money second. Take the high road on this one. If you don't want to send the money to her, make arrangements with a high-quality body shop local to her directly.

b) The dress is yours. It needs to be returned, but delaying paying her for the car damage you caused a year ago is an unfair conflation of two problems.

c) The furniture is in dispute -- was it understood to be a loan or a gift or something different? What is it worth? Those, and a bunch of similar questions, need to be resolved, but the car payment and the dress don't need to be levers in that discussion.
posted by Forktine at 8:38 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Alright, has anyone called mom about the dress? Especially if the asshole sister is the younger sister you know that mom will make her do the right thing and give back the dress. Sure it's childish to resort to this, but your SIL is being childish. Maybe she's just punishing your wife for something that happened when she was a kid. Yeah so your wife made her eat something nasty or pulled her hair. So what. She can't hold the dress hostage. You can try the zen approach and just tell her, "whatever, it was just talking up space anyway. Thanks for keeping it safe for us. Maybe your daughter can use it to play dress up." It'll probably make her so mad she'll hand deliver it to you just so she can yell about it. And then you can laugh at her which will make steam come out of her ears. Wouldn't that be fun?! Or maybe she'll destroy it. Who knows. She sounds INSANE! Most people get rid of wedding dresses at some point anyway.

As far as the car goes, I'd go take a look at the car myself before I gave her any money to fix it. Perhaps she's lying about the rust. Perhaps she just wants more cash from you. And why in the world would she have waited a year and a half to get an estimate? It's not like you and your wife disappeared. She could have asked you for the money anytime in the past year and a half and chose not to and now the damage will probably cost double or more to fix. I wouldn't pay her for any rust damage. Personally, if the scratch is as small as you say I wouldn't pay her to fix it either. Shit happens man. Unless there's a dent and water is getting in I'd tell she lost her chance for you to fix it. Maybe your wife can think of some doll her sister ruined as a child and demand payment for that. Chances are she has a lot of scratches on the car that are far worse than the one your wife is responsible for. And if she didn't care enough to get the car fixed in a timely manner she can't possibly care about the car as much as she's trying to sound like she does. Don't let her blackmail you. That's just lame and she has to know it. If she won't give back the dress or the furniture just laugh the next time she asks for money for the car.

As for the furniture I'd bring that up when talking to mom. If your wife made it clear to her sister that she was just loaning the furniture to her then your SIL can't just say it's hers now. She either needs to give it back OR she needs to pay you guys for it. And who bolts furniture to the floor? REALLY! I'd have a look at that too. And if their mom is any good at being an arbitrator (with a sister like that I would hope that she learned how to deal with situations like this a LONG time ago) she will convince the SIL that unless she gives back the furniture, or hell even just admits that it wasn't hers to begin with (I'd be satisfied with this), the tiny rust spot will stay as is. Personally, unless the furniture was highly valuable I'd let it go. Just buy newer better furniture so your SIL will be jealous and even more pissed off.

Overall I think the SIL sounds insane and I wish you the best in dealing with her. If she doesn't value the relationship with your wife, her sister, enough to be normal and do the right thing then the relationship is not worth salvaging. I wouldn't take her to court I'd just ignore her.

* FYI: I am an older sister and I would never put up with this bullshit.
posted by wherever, whatever at 9:48 PM on July 27, 2008


I find the hypocrisy of those 'on Jessica's side' quite amusing -
ie.
Its totally unreasonably to let someone borrow something while you're not using it for a couple of years and then expect them to return it - and expect them not to have given it away, destroyed it or damaged it.
However, by the same token its totally reasonable to not get your car fixed for 18 months, let the damage get worse and then demand its fixed before returning an item of great sentimental value.

IMO - you can't have it both ways, if they're being unreasonable about the furniture, she's being unreasonable about the car. If she wanted it fixed it was her her responsibility to sort it out or take them up on their offer to sort it out. And leaving for europe is no excuse - aside from the fact that we do have phones, banks and postal service in europe, the accident happened a year before they left for europe (based on the OPs timeline)
posted by missmagenta at 10:48 PM on July 27, 2008


Someone once told me that you can be right or you can be happy. Which is more important to you?
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


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