The New Significant Other Phenomena
When it comes to dealing with visitation time, parenting rights, child custody, and child support – there are a lot of sensitive and complicated issues to consider. One set of situations I deal with somewhat frequently as a family lawyer within Long Island and in and around the City, are those that arise when a biological parent of a child – with rights regarding that child – gets a new significant other, or partner be it a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife.
It’s a fact that is both inevitable and uncomfortable at the same time – when you engage in a divorce or break up with your partner, the chances are that you will eventually have to deal with your ex-partner getting involved with a new romantic interest. Likewise, life will go on for you and you too will find love again. Although this may not impact people who don’t have a child with their ex, it’s obvious that concerns can arise when a divorced couple have custody, visitation rights, and child support matters to consider. These issues can be sorted out through mediation, litigation, negotiations, or collaborative law.
Next week’s blog will focus on the child support matters with new girlfriends or boyfriends. This article will focus upon child custody and parenting time matters. For example, I have seen many applications filed in the past from the residential primary biological parent, suggesting that time should be limited with the non-residential parent when that individual gets a new partner. There may be legitimate concerns about a new person that the parent or children do not yet know and whether it is good for the children or not to spend time with them. The reasons behind a request to limit time can be varied and complicated – from simple jealousy, to concern over the individual’s level of contact with the child, and beyond. Similarly, it is not uncommon to see requests for a change of custody by one parent, when the other starts a relationship with a new partner or when they get a new partner. New relationships can change things whether the change is just perceived or more tangible. Changes can be spun to be positive, negative or a combination therein.
Issues regarding visitation time and custody can arise for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is possible for ex partners to raise concerns regarding visitation rights when the other parent gets a new significant other, simply because they don’t like the idea of someone else being romantically involved with the other parent. On the other hand, they may be worried that too much exposure to a new parental figure will lead to them being replaced within the child’s life. Obviously, if these are the reasons for a change in a custody order or agreement or visitation rights, the chances are that they will not be taken seriously in court – as it is the best interests of the child that must be considered in any legal circumstance.
The person who finds they are having difficulty spending time with their child(ren) after getting a new significant other might need the help of a mediator, lawyer and the help of a New York Family Court or their local Supreme Court to enforce a visitation or parenting schedule or to make one for the first time. If there never was an order or the order that was in place is no longer workable, it is probably time to get an order. As mentioned there are different processes that can be used to accomplish the goal. Both sides need to be willing to mediate or work in a collaborative matter, and the more traditional routes of litigation and settlement negotiations are always available as well.
It is also possible for the concerns regarding parenting time or child visitation and custody to be real, and significant, because of the way the child feels about the new partner, or because there is evidence that it may not be within the child’s best interests to be regularly exposed to the new partner. Sometimes, the children in question would rather not spend time with their other parent’s new girlfriend or boyfriend, and any children that they may bring into the equation. Usually, the court will take into account the feelings of the child involved if they are at an age where their opinion is deemed to be sensible and carefully considered. A parent speaking to a child about a court case is usually frowned upon.
I remind all of my clients to keep in mind that despite their emotions and discomfort regarding the presence of a new significant other in an ex-spouses life, that modifications of previous child custody awards require a significant change in circumstances. Most of the time, the presence of a new partner alone is not enough to facilitate this modification. However, if the person that is new in the ex-partner’s life has an impact on the child’s best interests, then issues regarding all manner of visitation and child custody may be reconsidered. In all situations, the introduction of a new significant other may either be positive, or negative, and the decisions made by the court will be determined according to the best interests of the children involved. Crucially, the more mature the children are, the more weight their preferences will be given when it comes to child custody and visitation.
As usual, please visit our other web pages and blog entries for information on child visitation, custody, and child support. Also feel free to call about your initial consultation – we look forward to speaking with you.