Let’s face it, one day, you’ll date again. For some, of course, it happens much sooner than others but, in the majority of cases, it happens. If you have children with your ex, no matter what else might happen, dating because exponentially more difficult. How do you talk about new boyfriends with the children? When do you introduce them? What if he has kids, too? There are a lot of questions, and it’s difficult (understandably so) to navigate this complicated area.
Some if it has more to do with child psychology and your instincts as a mother. In many ways, you likely know best what your kids can and cannot handle, and you’ll govern yourself accordingly. After all, your child’s best interests are always your first concern.
But there are legal concerns as well, and that’s where I come in. Regardless of what you think is best for the children, or what your children’s therapist believes is best for them, there can be legal ramifications. As long as your children are under the age of 18, custody is going to be modifiable based on a material change in circumstances — so, if your child’s father is so inclined, he can bring your new love interests to the attention of the court, and argue that its damaging to the children.
In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether it’s harmful or it isn’t — what matters is what a court will be convinced is in the best interests of the child. We can bring in experts (your child’s therapist, for example) or other witnesses (teachers, daycare providers, other mom friends) to help show that the arrangement isn’t harming the child. But, of course, that’s assuming we’re already litigating custody, which is time consuming, expensive, and emotionally difficult. It also makes future co parenting that much harder to accomplish, which is a concern, too.
So, to the all important question…
Will my new boyfriend hurt my custody case?
It’s hard to know for sure. Certainly, that’s a possibility, and one you should be aware of before you start up any new relationships. To analyze the problems your new boyfriend (or potential boyfriend) may pose, let’s look at a couple of different factors.
1. Consider boyfriend’s background.
This should maybe go without saying, but, first and foremost, we need to look at who this boyfriend is. A nice, respectable man working in a nice, respectable job is one thing.
A convicted felon, a registered sex offender, a person with a history of drug or alcohol addiction, or anyone with any skeletons in his closet… Well, it’s risky. I know there’s a certain draw to a “bad boy” personality, but, as an attorney, I’d be remiss if I told you to stay away from them if you and your child’s father may wind up in a fight over custody. Your new boyfriends background will certainly factor in to the analysis regarding custody, and can show the judge all sorts of things — from whether you’ve got a general level of good judgment to whether it’s truly appropriate to allow the child to stay with you overnight. Your choices, reflected by the people with whom you have relationships, will be on display for the court.
Before you get seriously involved with someone new (or married or pregnant or anything like that), consider his background, and how it will impact your current custody case.
I have literally had clients who had new boyfriends who were also registered sex offenders. Seriously. That has happened. It doesn’t really matter to me WHY he’s a registered sex offender, and I don’t really want to spend any time educating the judge on why he may be a sex offender but he’s really not all that bad of a guy. The judge won’t like it, and I don’t either. I can’t help the facts, so I’d do the best I could, but… Well, that’s pretty bad.
You should be prepared to cut any guy loose who might have an impact on your custody case.
2. Consider your living arrangements.
As you can probably imagine, it’s different to have a boyfriend who sleeps somewhere else (or, at least, who sleeps somewhere else when the child is in your care) than it is to have a live in boyfriend.
Call it old fashioned, but, in Virginia, judges like people who live together to be married, especially if they have children under their roofs. I’m not saying that living with someone before marriage is the death knell to your custody case, but why take the risk? Some judges are more old school than others, so it’s hard to know exactly how much it could possibly hurt your custody case to be living together, but… It’s not worth the risk.
Unless and until you get married, it’s almost certainly best if you don’t have a live in boyfriend. That’s also certainly not to say that you should rush into another marriage. Take your time, be sure, and don’t let whether you can live together cloud your judgment.
3. Consider his other relationships.
Does your new boyfriend have children, too? Does he have full or part time custody of them? Consider the implications of future potential stepchildren on your child, too. It’s not necessarily all positive!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because you’re in a relationship with a man with kids that you’ll be a perfectly happy Brady Bunch style family, and that the court will joyfully award you custody. To the court, the primacy of the parent/child relationship has to be protected, and dad really won’t be elbowed out by a “new daddy” and ready-made family. It may add a good element to the child’s life, but it won’t take the place of dad’s role–and you’d be making a mistake if you worded it that way.
Consider, too, the background of his children. Are they troublemakers? To the extent that these children make your child’s life more difficult, it could be less than awesome for you and your custody case. I once had a case where the dad alleged that mom’s new boyfriend’s kids were abusing the parties’ child. It wasn’t true, of course, but it was just one more allegation we had to do refute–which takes time and costs money.
With a new boyfriend, you should definitely tread carefully. There are definitely risks involved there, and you should go into it with your eyes wide open. To run the LEAST risk of hurting your custody case later on down the line, only get involved with men whose history you know well and would be prepared to explain to a judge, and don’t move in together unless and until you’re married. I know it’s old fashioned, and I know it’s annoying, but it’s definitely the best route to take with respect to your current children.
Made some mistakes? That’s okay. It happens. We can’t all do things perfectly all the time, and sometimes it’s easy to get excited about a new relationship and make mistakes. If you have made mistakes, don’t panic–all is not lost, necessarily. You’ll definitely want to talk to a licensed Virginia custody attorney, though, and get an idea of what you might be dealing with. A lot of times, you can save your case by correcting your mistakes, and honestly owning up to it to the judge. That’s not to say that’s always the case, of course it does depend on the severity of the issues involved–but it’s certainly worth a try.
If you are worried you’ve made some mistakes, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. We can talk to you about your options moving forward, and how to put you in the best possible position when it comes time to move your custody case forward.