Thursday, January 1, 2009

Introducing Parents' New Boyfriends or Girlfriends

One of the significant benefits of using Collaborative Law and including a child specialist is that the parties can make thoughtful and appropriate decisions about how to best introduce their children to new adults in the parents' lives. Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog has had two recent posts on the topic of visitation, children and sleep overs. There are no uniform rules on having boyfriends or girlfriends of a parent spend the night after a divorce has been granted or stating when and how the children should be introduced to such a new friend.

My suggestion about dating while the divorce is pending is to wait until after the divorce is granted. I had posts on that topic in 2007 and 2008.

The Problem: Assuming that the divorce is now granted, there are still important issues to be dealt with regarding introducing new romantic interests to the children. Collaborative Law provides a forum to have thoughtful discussions about what would be best for the children. While a selfish parent might want the freedom to bring new boyfriends or girlfriends around the children without restriction, a more mature approach involves taking into account the age, emotional state and the maturity of the children in deciding when and how to introduce them to a new "special friend". This should not be just an opportunity to flout one's independence and attractiveness in front of an ex-spouse. Some parents might enjoy showing off their new dating partner in front of the kids and possibly the ex-spouse, but the parents should be looking more long term.

The Effect on Children: Having experienced their parents' divorce, kids may be a little unsettled for a while. They need stability, predictability and safety. They want to know that they can depend on their parents and that neither parent will be abandoning the children. Bringing around a new significant other in the first few months after the divorce can create worry on the part of the children. They may wonder if the parent will be leaving the kids again and going away with a possible new spouse. It can also cut into the time the children could have been spending with their parent.

Solutions: An important feature of Collaborative Law, as practiced in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, is that we usually bring in a neutral child specialist to work with the parties. Having an experienced professional looking out for the children's best interests really helps the parties reach appropriate agreements and avoid deadlocks.

The good news is that Collaborative Law enables the parties to directly address the issue and put a plan in place to protect the children, to the extent it is needed. For example, the parties may agree to not introduce, for 6 months or a year, the children to someone the parent is dating. Since the odds of the parent breaking up with a dating partner within 6 -- 12 months are pretty high, the kids are kept away from an unstable lifestyle at a time when they may be a little fragile. In a litigated divorce in Texas, there is virtually no chance that such an agreement would be imposed by a judge and there wouldn't be much incentive for the parties to agree on that on their own.

Conclusion: Collaborative Law clearly provides a better opportunity to protect the children and assist in a safe and smooth transition from the intact family to two families. Using a child specialist and crafting an agreement that covers all aspects of introducing new adults into the children's lives is a smart way to help ensure the safety and health of the children.

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