By: Sarah T. McCain
There are many ways in which the third parties in your life may impact a child custody determination. It is important to carefully weigh each role these individuals play in your life and the interaction they have with your child(ren). Friends, neighbors, romantic partners, and family members could impact your child custody case. Each of these individuals could not only be called to testify, but could also be interviewed by a child custody expert, such as Child and Family Investigators (CFI) or Parental Responsibilities Evaluators (PRE). Negative things any of them do could be used against you when it comes time to determine things like residential custody or parenting time. When starting parenting time or child custody litigation, it’s always a good idea to think about who’s going to be around your kids and what effect that interaction could have.
The more obvious third parties are significant others. Whether it be a modification of an existing parenting time order or the initial custody determination, the existence of a significant other can be an issue. Often we see couples that work quite well together. However, this working relationship can deteriorate when a new romantic relationship become serious for one parent. Any individual who is going to have significant contact with your children can become an issues. Firstly, if you are starting a new relationship, it’s important to do a little background investigation on your new significant other. Though generally we all believe we are good judges of character, sometimes we’re not. I have seen cases in which new romantic partners come with issues, such as DUI’s, past domestic violence charges, protection orders, or even child abuse (or worse) charges. I have seen cases in which one party was completely unaware of their new significant other’s baggage. Though not generally something a court is going to order on its own, if one party requests and order requiring either side to provide name and birthdate of a new significant other, it’s likely going to be ordered. While family law courts not have jurisdiction over new significant others, they do have jurisdiction over the parent and their children and can issue orders requiring no contact between the children and the problematic significant other. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider whether even introducing the children to a new significant other is the best choice at the time. If going through a divorce and separated for only a brief time, introducing the kids to a new significant other could be viewed as selfish, not child centered, and not in their best interest. It could impact the parenting time allotted to you. I have seen the court in a family law case out of North Carolina issue an order that there are to be no overnights with a significant other in the home until there is an engagement. I have not seen a court in Colorado issues any such order, but I have heard judges mention or make comments about it being inappropriate and not in the best interests of the children to be introduced to new people too soon.
If you have a professional involved in your cases, such as the ones mentioned above, they will certainly at least want to talk with your new significant other, for a variety of potential reasons. If there is tension between the child(ren) and the significant other, an expert may have concerns. It should also be noted that therapists, both for the kids and parents, are fair game for child custody experts to talk to. If you have a court appointed professional, such as a CFI or PRE, they will likely want to speak to your significant to discuss things like their opinions regarding the children, your ex, your relationship with your ex, and their relationship with you. They might also be interviewed regarding their own personal life and history. Knowing that a new significant other could impact your case, it’s best to make smart decisions early on, and maybe to speak with a child custody attorney before making any significant ones.
The other most common third party is a relative of one parent, such as a grandparent. The role of grandparents can be a very important one in the lives of child(ren). In most cases, the court encourages the relationships with grandparents. Of course, there are exceptions to all of the general rules and, when appropriate, orders may be requested of the court to protect a child from a grandparent who may not be looking out for the child’s best interests. Sometimes it can be obvious harm, such as in the case of addiction or abuse. In some cases, the problems can be more subtle. A common hypothetical we see in this field is the case of family get together. It can be easy for the family to slip into speaking negatively about the other party and often the children hear. Most parenting time agreements include language which provides that negatively speaking about the other party in front of, or even in the vicinity of the children, is inappropriate and that the children should be removed from the situation. I recommend giving family members a reminder about how they speak about the children’s other parent is a good place to start. It is important to remember that hearing negative things about their other parent can have an emotional impact on the child(ren) and it may impact your own time with the children if you are unwilling to stop negative language.
Sometimes people don’t really think about the other people in their lives they allow around their children. Sometimes problems arise because of this. Sometimes those problems can be big. When going through a divorce with children, a custody case, or a parenting time battle, remember you and your decisions are under a microscope. Act accordingly.