Clients frequently ask whether it is appropriate for his or her spouse to exercise parenting time with the children in the presence of the new significant other. The questions usually go something like this:
- Can she be there when the kids are there?
- Should they be sleeping in the same room with the kids right down the hallway?
- How can he be there with the kids when I have not met him?
- Does this impact our custody and parenting time dispute?
- Are the kids going to get mixed messages?
- Should we bring this to the court's attention and, if we do, will the judge even care?
These are just a few of the questions that may arise when your spouse starts dating someone in the middle of the divorce and wants to introduce the children to that person, have parenting time with that person present and, perhaps, have overnight parenting time with the kids just a few feet away in the room next door.
With the changing times come changing attitudes towards such parenting time. Exposing the children to a new girlfriend or boyfriend is not nearly as taboo as it once was, and, at least in New Jersey, it is generally accepted. While this is an issue that can always be discussed between the parties and counsel, and while there are always certain cases where a judge might think twice about exposing the children to a new significant other, such as if there is a suspected harm to the children in doing so, there is usually no longer an issue.
I find that judge's are less willing, however, to allow overnight parenting time, at least during the divorce, depending on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the circumstances surrounding the new relationship, the sleeping arrangements, and the like. On the more extreme end, I recently had a case where my client's spouse had an affair and then demanded to exercise her overnight parenting time with the children present where the kids were aware of what was going on. Evaluating the circumstances at issue, the trial judge sensibly precluded the boyfriend's presence during the wife's overnight parenting time.
However, as opposed to Alabama - as highlighted in Eric Solotoff's recent blog post - such conduct will also likely have little to no impact on a custody dispute.
Thus, while you may dislike the idea of your children meeting the new boyfriend or girlfriend, changing social norms dictate that it is more likely to be accepted than not. With that in mind, divorcing parents should work together to make the children understand and feel comfortable with the changing situation. The dating spouse should take caution in how, when and where the children should first meet the new person in their life. Ultimately, courts are going to watch out for the best interests of the children, and any hint that the situation poses a negative to the children will be immediately addressed as necessary.
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.