As a divorce attorney, Denver has been a diverse area to practice family law in over the years. Though cases and people are different, there are many themes that recur over and over again, whether the parties are from Aurora or Greenwood Village. In divorce cases with children or custody cases, a common issue that pops up time and time again is that of new significant others.
Though I’m sure things were different way back when, today it is not uncommon to see a new boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture before a divorce is even done. Sometimes people are even engaged to be married again before the ink is even dry on their divorce. I am not passing judgment on those people; I am just stating something the custody and divorce attorneys at Plog & Stein see. Imagine raising your kids, just you and the other parent, for years and years. You have had the opportunity to play an integral part in their upbringing, their habits, their discipline, and formation of whom they will be as they get older. Then suddenly one day, there is a stranger, a new parent-like influence in their lives. Naturally, most parents are going to be concerned, at least initially.
From a human standpoint, an initial, often-unspoken fear is whether the kids like the new person too much? Will the new boyfriend or girlfriend be a Disneyland type influence, thereby making me look bad when I act as a parent and discipline the kids? The more commonly raised concern is “my kids don’t like his new girlfriend, she’s mean” or vice versa. What can I do? In our Denver area custody, or divorce cases, we generally don’t see courts getting too shocked or too upset at the notion of new significant others becoming involved in kids’ lives. Clients will often ask, when is too soon? There is no black and white answer. Kids should not have added confusion or stress in an already confusing time, and some courts will take that into consideration.
Of course, safety issues come into play with new significant others. Are they nice to the kids? Are they abusive? Do they have a criminal record for domestic violence, drugs, crimes of a sexual nature, or anything else that might make them problematic around children? Will they say negative things about me in an attempt to affect my relationship with the kids? Do they have children of their own? How will those kids treat my kids? All of these are valid questions frequently asked of our family law attorneys.
When drafting your Colorado divorce or custody agreement, or before a judge seeking orders, there are a few things you can ask for to help alleviate some of the fears or concerns regarding new significant others:
1. Insist upon orders that each party will provide the full name, birth date, and a driver’s license copy for all new adults who will be a significant part of your kids’ lives. This should not only include new significant others who might move in, but roommates. Once can never be too cautious; we have seen cases in which the other party gets a roommate after the divorce that turns out to be a sex offender. You certainly also want to know if this person has had legal trouble related to drugs, violence, or domestic violence.
2. In terms of conduct around the children, often times attorneys will build language into agreements that neither parent will speak negatively about the other in front of the children or discuss case related adult or financial issues. You can go the extra step in drafting an agreement by also adding language to the effect of “both parties shall have an affirmative duty to remove the children from the presence of any third person engaging in such behavior.” The court does not have jurisdiction over third persons. If does have jurisdiction over the parents and can create duties to shield your children from what third persons say. If you have concerns about the substance or alcohol use of others who will be around your children, you can also ask for language that the same duty to remove the kids applies to instances where they might be around people who are intoxicated. These are just words, but at least people are put on notice. Words can also be enforceable court orders.
3. A third area in which the presence of a new significant other can be troubling for parents relates to discipline. Most courts in divorce or custody cases view discipline as something for the parents, not new boyfriends or girlfriends. We have seen cases in which a new significant other has tried to assert herself or himself in a parental disciplinary role. This can be problematic and often causes ill feelings. This is particularly true when that discipline becomes physical. Only one time have I seen a judge advocate physical discipline, such as spanking, even when it’s the parents. The involvement of new love interests in the discipline of your children can be curtailed greatly by adding cautionary language to your agreement, such as “the parties agree that neither shall allow any third persons or new significant others to engage in the disciplining of the children. Discipline for significant behavior issues shall be discussed between the parents and implemented solely by the parents.” Again, no jurisdiction over the third person, but a duty placed on the parents.
Though parties cannot have control over their ex’s moving on and finding someone new, they can create some protections to alleviate some of the concerns that new significant others in the kids’ lives can bring. Certainly, Denver area family courts will deal with true safety or danger issues related to new significant others. Your Denver area divore or custody attorney can help you lessen or prevent some of those concerns for your children that don’t quite rise to that level.