Dealing with in laws after divorce

Posted on Jun 8, 2022 by Katie Carter


Like entirely too many things in life, there’s no rule book for how to handle certain things after divorce. Before I go too far, allow me to say one thing. Actually, I’m going to give it a header tag, so that it’s bigger than the rest of the text, and so that it really emphasizes my point to you.

You are free to make up your own post-divorce rules, based on what works for you and your family.

With some exceptions, of course (like that you have to follow court orders; you can’t just do whatever you want where those are concerned), you do have a lot of freedom to establish what you want your post-divorce life to look and feel like.

Keep in mind that, as they say, ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’, so if you’re making decisions that your ex will be hurt or offended by, there’s a good chance that he’ll do the same to you. But, at the same time, your own mental health is important, and so is setting up boundaries that protect you and your children from potentially toxic people and situations that surround you and them.

Families are hard. Families are actually one of the more challenging things in anyone’s life, divorce or no divorce. So, if you’re having trouble navigating your new normal, just know that you’re not alone.

When it comes to custody and visitation, there are some general ‘rules’ that apply here.

If you and your child’s father are in agreement to exclude certain family members from the children’s lives, you’re free to do that.

For many parents, even after they divorce or break up or otherwise separate, there is someone (or, sometimes, someones) in the family who are deemed problematic by both parents.

Both parents may agree to exclude that person from the child’s life. That’s something that can be formally done in the court order – like, it can say that ‘so and so’ will not be around the children, will only have supervised visitation with the children, will not be allowed overnights, will not be allowed to be alone with the children, or whatever. It can also be done by agreement between the parties, with the same kind of specificity. If the two of you agree, you can set whatever terms and conditions on the ongoing relationship that make you feel most comfortable.

If you and your child’s father DON’T agree about the role that certain family members should occupy, then it’s a little harder.

If you don’t want, say, your ex-mother in law around the kids, you don’t have to allow her to have time with the children during your parenting time. So, depending on the schedule that you agree to or is ordered by the court, you may have more or less control over that relationship. If you have, say, primary physical custody, it gives you a lot of control. If you have shared physical custody, you’ll have less.

The child’s other parent could decide to keep that person involved, but the time that (again, we’re going to go with ex mother in law here) this other family member gets with the child will have to take place during your coparent’s parenting time.

If you agree, you can set restrictions on that parenting time – but, if you don’t agree, you’ll likely find that (absent something shocking, like a history of criminal violence against children) there’s very little you can do to enforce your conditions. If your coparent has shared custody and spends a lot of time with the child, the ex mother in law could wind up with a lot of time with the child, potentially.

What can I do to limit exposure of my child to someone who I believe is unsuitable?

You have a couple of options. Obviously, since you know your ex best, you’re going to probably be in the best position to judge how to move things forward. Should you be direct with him, and admit that you have a problem with his mom being with the kids alone? Or should you push for provisions, without citing specific reasons (like that she’s a toxic monster) that allow you to maintain a little more control, or avoid situations that you feel are potentially problematic?
You know the answer to that question best.

Right of first refusal

A ‘right of first refusal’ is something that I see a lot in cases like this. Say that your child’s father wants parenting time, but tends to pawn the children off on his mom. You don’t think your mother in law is suitable, for whatever reason – hey, I’m not here to judge, only to help.

You can ask for a right of first refusal, where you stipulate that if either of you is unable to care for the child for more than a certain amount of time (2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours, overnight – whatever, the world is your oyster) that you are given the option to take them back before an alternate child care provider is utilized.

Sometimes, we specify that this is for care outside of normal work-related care; like, if you have a daycare or nanny who does the childcare during the week and it’s not mother-in-law who’d be enlisted in those times, that’s fine – because, of course, the provision is mutual, and it’s ridiculous for you to ask each other every single work day whether the other would like parenting time when you know full well that daycare is paid for already for this specific purpose.

But, like I said, the provision is mutual. Are you planning on leaving the kids with your mom, for example, for longer than the period you’d want to specify in the agreement or court order? How would you/she feel if you tried to plan something, and he stepped in and took the kids back? If the same restriction applies to you, would you feel too restricted? It’s just something to consider.

Restrictions on alcohol/drug consumption during/before time child is left in care

For a lot of families, the concern around an extended family member is that family member’s alcohol or drug usage.

You can put in your agreement or court order that no one who has consumed alcohol or drugs can be left to care for the children. You can require drug/alcohol testing (there are some over the counter tests you can use – and can even specify how they’ll be paid for) prior to leaving the children in a specific person’s care.

Maybe it’s your ex himself. Maybe it’s your mother in law. It doesn’t matter; you can specify who should be tested, how they’ll be tested (like, what kind of test or what sensitivity of test you’ll use – maybe do some research here), and how the results will be treated.

Restrictions on overnight guests

You can also write into your agreement, or ask the judge to enter in your court order, some kind of provision about overnight guests.

You’ll want to do some thinking about what verbiage applies here that would also restrict overnights with the person you’re trying to avoid being around the kids. Is it the new girlfriend? Is it still that pain in the butt ex mother in law? You’ll want to choose the right words.

Often, we use ‘unrelated overnight guests’ but you could also put ‘female overnight guests’ or a general restriction against ‘overnight guests’ in your order or agreement. Keep in mind this’ll apply to you as well – and it’s likely that your ex will want some kind of mutually restrictive ban on ‘romantic overnight guests’ if you’re trying to, say, keep out his girlfriend. And if you restrict overnight guests generally, your parents will also not be able to stay with you.

You’ll always want to consider the impact if the provision is made mutually – which it almost always is. What’s good for the goose, you know?

But you’re not totally out of control, and you’re smart to start thinking about what kinds of things you can put in your agreement or court order to help you maintain control over some of the toxic influences in your kid’s lives.

You should also not feel pressured to allow something that you’re uncomfortable with during your parenting time. You’re absolutely allowed to say NO to your former in laws!

For more information or to request a copy of our custody book, give us a call at 757-425-5200.