Has your relationship recently ended or are you divorced with children? Are you dating and concerned about the introduction of your new loved one to your kids? Perhaps your estranged spouse or ex-spouse objects to the introduction and uses your newfound relationship to drag you back into a contentious court proceeding. Will a court prevent the introduction from occurring or minimize contact? Could you lose custody of your children because of the introduction? It all depends on the circumstances.
The introduction of a new partner to kids is absolutely relevant to custody and visitation determinations in Virginia courts. Custody and visitation decisions must be made with the children’s best interests in mind, pursuant to Virginia Code § 20-124.3. No two cases are exactly the same when it pertains to the introduction of a new partner to a child. There are a plethora of factors the court will consider before it renders a decision on whether a new partner or paramour is allowed to be around a child. These are some of the most common factors the court will look at:
- The timing of the new relationship. How long has it been since the parents’ relationship ended? Are the parents divorced or is the divorce process ongoing? Did the new relationship begin while the marital relationship was ongoing? Did the new relationship cause the breakdown of the marriage, or were the parents already separated? The timing of the new relationship is important because it sheds light on the ability of the child to adjust to their “new normal.” Has the child had the opportunity to accept that the parents are no longer together? Is the child of an age to understand the separation? Is the child angry at a parent or their new significant other? The child is the primary focus, from the court’s perspective, when weighing whether a new relationship should be introduced to a child.
- Does the other parent object? And why? The mere objection of a parent to the introduction of a child to the new partner is not necessarily enough to prevent such contact. A parent’s objection must be reasonable. Are the parents still married and one of them wants to introduce the kids to their paramour? A court would probably put a stop to that, at least until the divorce has been finalized. If a new partner has been involved in the child’s life for years, then it would probably be unreasonable to prevent the child from having further contact. But what if the new partner is a poor influence on the child (which is of course subjective), engages in risky behavior and/or has concerning relationships with his own children? For example, if the new partner does not have custody of her own children for a CPS-related reason (i.e. abuse or neglect), the court may intervene.
- Criminal/behavioral history of the new partner. If the new partner is a convicted felon or has drug convictions, then that may be a reason for the court to prevent further contact with the child. If the new partner has been convicted of DUIs, then the court may restrict the partner’s ability to drive with the kids in his or her vehicle. If the new partner only has parking tickets or even speeding tickets, that may not be enough to cause the court to restrict interaction.
Courts will always decide whether a parent’s new partner can have contact with a child over the objection of the other parent on a case-by-case basis. Parents can always agree during the divorce process, or through effective co-parenting counseling, about when and how a child should be introduced to new partners. However, in cases where parents cannot agree, having an experienced attorney is important.
If you have any questions about custody, visitation or blending your new significant other into your family, Livesay & Myers, P.C. can help. From offices in Fairfax, Manassas, Leesburg, Arlington, and Fredericksburg, the family law attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent clients throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.