There are many things about a divorce and custody case (or just a plain custody case) that are pretty anxiety-inducing. Ove the years, I’ve written about a lot of them as it relates to custody cases – from relocation, to issues with grandparents wanting their own specific parenting time, military deployments, mental illness and addiction, and more.
One of the other things that isn’t easy (and is also probably more or less inevitable) is the difficulty that comes when he finds a new girlfriend. I don’t mean to be defeatist; after all, statistically speaking, you will date and remarry, too – though you may not be thinking of it today as a likely possibility.
But, sooner or later, one or both of you will probably find a new romantic partner. Some families navigate this territory more easily than others. But, then again, some ex-husbands find much, much more suitable future partners than others, and you can’t really help if you feel (subjectively or objectively) that his choice is subpar at best.
Can you keep his new girlfriend away? What can you do?
As a general rule, it comes down to two things. You can either do whatever you and he can agree to, in a written agreement, or whatever you can get the judge to order in court. Those are your options.
Now, chances are, he won’t want to put in the agreement that she can’t be around the kids – especially not if it’s a specific ban against his specific girlfriend. What DOES sometimes work, though, is mutual restrictions drafted early on and placed in either a separation agreement or a specific custody agreement.
Keeping his new girlfriend away by agreement of the parties
Like anything else, dads don’t like to feel like specific restrictions apply to them and only them, leaving mom free to do as she pleases. Whether your issue is that you don’t want him to consume alcohol while he has parenting time, or you want to keep his mother away from your children unsupervised, you’re probably going to be much more successful getting an actual provision in place if you make the provisions mutual.
Same goes for new girlfriend. And be specific, too.
What do you want to see here? That he can’t leave the kids unsupervised in her care? That he can’t introduce the children to a romantic partner until you’ve had a chance to meet her, and they’ve been dating at least six months (one year, or something else)? That he won’t have unrelated overnight guests while the children are staying with him? Maybe you want to work together with a therapist to determine when it’s best for your children to have new potential partners introduced, and you agree in advance to follow your chosen therapist’s advice?
That he won’t let the children be around a new girlfriend at all may be a nonstarter, but there may be restrictions you can put in place – again, mutual restrictions – that ease your anxiety a bit and take the children’s needs into account a little bit better.
If you can’t get an agreement, though, you’ll have to go to court.
Will the judge order that his new girlfriend can’t be around my children?
It’s such a tricky situation, and it’s dependent on so many different circumstances. Like, how long have they been dating?
Many judges are willing to put provisions in place that don’t allow unrelated overnight guests. You may also be able to get a restriction against the children being left solely in her care, especially if it’s a very new relationship.
A newer relationship, of course, has a little less validity than an established one. A long term, stable relationship is generally respected, and a marriage certainly is respected. It’s not reasonable to suggest that because he’s seriously dating, or even married, someone new that he can’t have his girlfriend/wife around the children ever. After all, most judges these days are more supportive of things like shared custody generally, and many believe vehemently that having mom and dad involved in the kid’s lives to the greatest degree possible is what’s in the child’s best interests.
In fact, I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that, for many judges, the whole “best interests of the child” thing relates almost exclusively to the degree to which the child can have both parents in his life.
What, specifically, you can get will depend a lot on who she is, too. Does she have a criminal past? Is she an alcoholic, suffering from mental health issues, or an addict?
Even the importance of these factors is somewhat limited. If she doesn’t have a violent criminal past, or her criminal record doesn’t suggest she’d be a danger to children, you probably can’t keep her away forever or insist on supervised time. A DUI, for example, might be a reason to say that she can’t be behind the wheel with your children in the car, but isn’t really a reason to withhold them when she’s around dad indefinitely.
Even alcoholism and mental health issues are limited; it’s not a golden ticket to keeping her away forever. Is she in recovery? Is she treating her mental health issues? If she and dad are in a stable, long term relationship, she may be given more leeway than you feel she should.
At the end of the day, none of us are perfect. The judge won’t be expecting perfection of his new girlfriend. I think, ultimately, it’d take some pretty extreme circumstances to keep her away forever, but you may be able to get some specific guidelines in place that make you feel a little bit better about dad’s parenting time.
It’s definitely worth talking one-on-one to a custody lawyer about, too. I don’t know your specific situation, I only want to tell you today that it’s not a guaranteed slam dunk. Your facts are almost certainly different, and maybe there’s something in your case that I haven’t discussed. Maybe, even, you don’t know all there is to know about her, and you need to go through some discovery as part of your divorce or custody case to make sure that you know what you need to know about her.
It’s scary to entrust your children to someone else, especially in the beginning. Though I’ve seen families expand to include their ex partner’s new partners gracefully and with love and acceptance, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, it’s just not possible. For your sake, and the sake of your children, I hope his choice is a good one, and that your heart can open enough to at least allow room for someone new.
It’s definitely not easy, and you’d be inhuman if you didn’t have feelings about it. And it is also possible that she really is a total train wreck who shouldn’t be allowed to be near children. You’ll want to talk to someone about it to work through your options, if for no other reason than it will make you feel better to have said it out loud and looked into what you can do to make sure your children are protected.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.