For a family law attorney, there are a lot of issues we try to “fix” when it comes to parents attempting to co-parent their children together after a separation or divorce. Common issues range from mom isn’t getting homework done to dad is always late for exchanges to someone making disparaging remarks about the other parent in the presence of the children. Typically, these issues are covered in a custody agreement or order so it’s easy to police the other parent’s behaviors, or the parents have a custody hearing looming in the future so you can threaten to address issues in court if they aren’t remedied. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if concerns like these exist, the judge or the attorneys will include provisions in your custody order regarding them to help set rules for each parent. One issue that is always troubling and doesn’t necessarily have any clear answers is when one parent starts dating someone new.
The fact is that either parent is free to date and move on to a new relationship after a separation or divorce. It’s hardly ever easy for the other parent and besides the feelings of resentment, jealousy, and bitterness that often accompany this situation, it’s hard to know how to address a parent’s firm position when they tell you as their family law attorney that they don’t want the new boyfriend or girlfriend around their kids.
Some parents agree to put morality clauses or provisions regarding dating partners into their custody agreements. If both parents have agreed that neither parent shall introduce the children to their new dating partner for a certain period of time (i.e. not until they have been dating for six months), then the issue has already been addressed and both parents have guidelines to follow. A typical provision is that neither parent can have their dating partner spend the night while the children are in their care. So at least you know that while your ex may be spending time with the children and their new significant other, the children won’t have to be put in the situation of the dating partner sleeping over. Putting these types of rules in place on the front end guarantees there are some sort of parameters for dating and new relationships.
However, many custody agreements don’t have these provisions because either the parents could not agree as to what to include or did not think to include them. Also, it’s not guaranteed that the assigned judge to your custody case feels as strongly as you do about the new dating partner. Many judges take a more liberal approach to modern-day dating and relationships. So what do you do in these situations when there is nothing to address or direct the other parent’s dating relationship and its exposure to your children? First, try to honestly examine why you feel so strongly about new boyfriend or girlfriend not being around your children. Is it because this person is a potential harm to them? If there is something to back this up, then it’s possible a judge could help you address the issue. But if the real source of the issue is that you just don’t think the other parent should have a girlfriend or boyfriend around the children during their time with them, then that is probably not a good enough reason. One freedom as a parent is to associate with and spend time with whomever you choose to, even if your kids are with you during that time. As long as the children aren’t being harmed or subjected to anything inappropriate, then the better approach may be to try and set some boundaries with the other parent in a civil and cooperative manner. Have an open dialogue about what you each think is the best way for the children to get to know the dating partner. Make requests, not demands. In the event no resolution can be reached, it may be worth it to seek the advice of a family law attorney who knows the judges in your county and how they will likely view the situation. There are no specific statutes or rules for this, so keep an open mind.