We’ve all – at one point or another – dated someone who was less than suitable. Hey, I’m a divorce lawyer; I kind of specialize in unsuitable partners! But, sometimes, it’s less about the person than the timing of the relationship.
During a custody case is a tricky time to date. I’m not saying you can’t date during your custody case. Lots of people do. And, in fact, the court can’t really tell you that you can’t date someone. But your dating life can play out in an uncomfortable way during an ongoing custody and visitation case, so the choices you make are ones you should be keenly aware of and prepared to deal with during your case, if it comes to that.
Ultimately, the suitability of your current partner says a lot to the court about your suitability as a parent, whether rightly or wrongly. The court is inferring things about your order of priorities based on the choices you’re making. And, maybe, it’s not actually right to say ‘dating,’ because a remarriage, too, can have consequences for your custody case if the evidence presented suggests that your new relationship is one that doesn’t prioritize your existing children.
At its core, a custody and visitation case is about the children only. It’s not about you, or your child’s father, and it’s certainly not about your new partner, his or her children, or any other people who might be involved to a greater or lesser degree. It’s about the children, first and foremost, and what kind of custody and visitation arrangement will suit the child or children’s long term best interests. That will, ultimately, have something to do with the choices that you make now and in the future, including who you choose to date, marry, or otherwise involve yourself with.
Lots of people date or remarry, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The court doesn’t expect you to live an unhappy, single, sexless, date-less life just because you already have children. But, what the court DOES expect from you is that you’ll place the well being of your children first – before any other relationships you might have or want to start.
That means even things as simple as making sure that any would-be boyfriends don’t have shocking pasts, like child pornography or molestation charges. It probably goes without saying, but, in a custody case, a boyfriend who is a registered sex offender is going to be perceived as a very bad fact. If you continue a relationship with him – or, worse, move in with him, or even marry him – it’s going to look like you’re not putting your children’s needs first.
I probably don’t mean that he is, say, a recovering addict, or had a speeding ticket 12 years ago – though, of course, it may come up. His mental health history, any drug and/or alcohol addiction, or other issues can ultimately come up in discovery and be an issue in your case, especially if you’re not really addressing these issues, are evasive about them, or don’t seem to be able to grasp the ways in which these issues might impact your children.
Like everything, it’s a case by case basis, and it’s going to depend on exactly what his background is. And, not just him, but anyone who – by extension – your children come into contact with can be important in your custody case. His children, for example, are probably pretty important in your custody case. If those children have issues, that’s definitely relevant, especially if you’re living with your boyfriend and those children for any part of the time that you have your own children in your care.
I recently heard of a case where the child of a mom’s new boyfriend had sexually abused one of his siblings. The mom was living with the boyfriend and the child – both the abused child and the abuser. This is probably an outlier; I mean, it’s the first I’ve heard of a case with this exact fact pattern. But, at the same time, the fact that the mother is continuing to live with the boyfriend and the children is going to be an impediment to her having custody. That’s not to say she’d lose custody immediately or automatically; it’s a complex weighing of factors in any custody case, and we haven’t even looked at the merits or demerits of the father’s case for custody. But it’s still a set of facts that suggests to the court that mom is thinking of her new romance and of her boyfriend’s needs and feelings (or even her own) before her own children’s, and putting them in a position where they’re exposed to great risk.
In general, courts don’t love when blended families blur lines – like sharing bedrooms, especially for kids of mixed genders. No matter how young, it’s probably not appropriate to have your daughter sharing a room with your boyfriend’s soon. It may not change custody, but it will likely raise an eyebrow – which you’d really prefer NOT to do in your custody case.
There’s not really hard and fast rules here, just things to be aware of. Probably the best course of action is to discuss any decisions you’re considering making – like whether to date someone or move in with them or become engaged to them – with your attorney first. Barring that, being willing to make a big change – like, to move out of your boyfriend’s house if it becomes an issue – is going to be important.
Like anything else, it’s always a matter of weighing advantages and disadvantages of a particular course of action. Is this man the one, and you literally can’t imagine the rest of your life without him? Would you be willing to lose – or risk – custody of your children over it? No one can answer that question but you, and, at some point, you may have to answer it and then live with the consequences, good and bad, of that decision.
You’ll also probably want to monitor your social media activity. It’s unfair, but the reality of the world is that we stigmatize women for behaviors that we celebrate in men. If you’re going out, partying, drinking, dating and sharing too much of that on social media, you’re just giving opposing counsel ammunition to use against you in your custody case. I’m not saying, necessarily, that you shouldn’t do those things, but that having photo evidence likely won’t help (and could possibly hurt) your custody case. Talk to your attorney about your choices beforehand, just to be sure they’re on the up and up, custody-wise, but also refrain from posting anything that could be looked at controversially. I know – its not fair, it’s a double standard, he could probably do it and get away with it, yada, yada, yada. I don’t disagree, and I’m not saying this is my perspective, just that it’s something you could just as easily NOT do, and the risk/reward analysis supports not posting.
If you’re not sure how to manage your social media accounts, check out this free report – I think it’ll help!
You can make your own choices. The court won’t tell you that you can’t date. The court won’t tell you that you can’t use your social media accounts to tell the world about it. You do you. But, in an ideal world, you’d make careful, calculated decisions that are designed to keep your top priorities in the top spot. I’m not here to set those priorities for you, but if your #1 priority is keeping or getting custody of your kids, I’m happy to chat with you.
To schedule a consultation with any of the experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys in our office, give us a call at 757-425-5200.