On the heels of my blog entry from earlier this week addressing the issue of parenting time with the other spouse's significant other comes the recently unpublished (not precedential) decision from the Appellate Division in R.C. v. P.J.C.
The parties entered into settlement agreement providing that mom would have primary residential custody, and dad would have parenting time as specified in the agreement. The agreement provided that "[n]either party shall have a significant other in the presence of the children on an overnight basis for [six] months following [the] divorce." It further provided that the parties should generally conduct themselves in a manner "consistent with the best interests of the children."
A few months following settlement, dad filed a motion alleging, in part, that mom violated the agreement by allowing her "significant other" to spend nights at her home in the presence of the children. Mom admitted that her boyfriend did occasionally stay overnight at her home, and that her actions were justified because "in the grand scheme of things, [her] violation on this issue [was] a small infraction." For a variety of reasons relating to the pending applications, the trial court interviewed the child as to his relationship with each parent, during which time the child provided that mom's boyfriend treated her nicely, visited the home several times per week, and takes him to sporting events. He added that the boyfriend did not live in the home, only staying overnight on two occasions (once to protect the family, and the other time due to a hurricane).
On appeal, dad argued that the trial court failed to address his claim that mom violated the agreement by having her boyfriend stay overnight at her home in the child's presence. Addressing the issue, the Appellate Division provided:
In our view, the trial court erred in failing to address this issue when it entered its November 21, 2011 and February 22, 2012 orders. Although the PSA's provision regarding overnight visits by a "significant other" may no longer apply due to the passage of time, such visits may violate the other provision of the PSA if they are not in the "best interests of the children." The court should address this issue on remand.
The Court's commentary as to the "passage of time" was strictly based on the language of the agreement, leaving the trial court on remand to analyze whether the visits, while perhaps no longer in violation of the time provision, were not in the best interests of the children.
While my prior post discussed changing social norms and greater acceptance of such parenting time, ultimately this case demonstrates that the best interests of the child must always be considered based on the specific facts and circumstances at issue.
Robert Epstein is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP's Family Law Practice Group. Robert practices in the firm's Roseland, New Jersey office and can be reached at (973) 994-7526, or firstname.lastname@example.org.