In can be difficult for separated and divorced parents to determine when it’s best to introduce their children to a new dating partner.
Each child is unique, of course. That’s why it generally makes much more sense for separated and divorced parents to agree on how best to introduce their children to a new dating partner instead of leaving it up to the court to decide.
Before the divorce is entered by the court, parents can agree on dating partner provisions in what is called a “consent order,” which is signed by both parties entered by the court. Or the terms can be included in the parties’ divorce agreement.
Either way, however, the dating partner provisions would be subject to review by the New Jersey Family Court if one parent later files a court application to enforce the terms of the Agreement if the other fails to comply.
According to the New Jersey Family Court, agreements pertaining to children are only enforceable to the extent that they promote the welfare and best interests of the children.
That’s why it’s important that the dating partner provisions be “reasonable” in terms of what a court would likely enforce.
For example, in one 2015 case, Mantle v. Mantle, the New Jersey Family Court refused to enforce a provision that imposed blanket restrictions on all contact between the child and new dating partners.
In Mantle, the parents of their six-year-old son had separated five months ago, and the child was already familiar with his father’s new girlfriend.
The parents’ prior consent order included a provision that “neither party would permit new girlfriends or boyfriends in the presence of the child during their respective parenting times, unless and until further order.”
The New Jersey Family court refused to enforce such a broad restriction on all dating partners, while also noting that parental separation and divorce may be a fairly new development in a child’s life. The child “may therefore need a reasonable opportunity for a transitional period to absorb, digest, and ultimately adjust to sudden and major changes” in his or her family life.
Therefore, the court imposed a period of gradual transition and introduction to new parental dating partners over a reasonable period of time, and specifically ordered that:
- Neither parent will expose a new dating partner to the child for six months following the parties’ separation;
- Between six and twelve months, the parents may introduce the child to new dating partners, but will not have the dating partner stay overnight in the child’s presence;
- After twelve months, each parent at his or her discretion may choose to have a dating partner stay overnight, so long as the parent and dating partner do not expose the children to any age-inappropriate conduct (i.e., sexual activity), in the child’s presence; and
- At no time may the dating partner attempt in any way to obstruct or interfere with the relationship which the child has with the other parent; nor may the dating partner talk negatively about the other parent to the child or in front of the child.
Similarly, in a 1997 case entitled Giangeruso v. Giangeruso, the New Jersey Family Court refused to enforce a provision in the parties’ divorce agreement that “the children shall not have any contact with any girlfriend/boyfriend or love interest of the other if the children express reluctance to do so.”
The two children were six and nine years old. The father lived with his girlfriend, who had been a neighbor before the divorce.
The Giangeruso decision determined that the dating partner restriction placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of two young children. Significantly, New Jersey Family Court instructed that “children should not have the power to veto [parenting time] any more than they should be allowed to exercise veto power over other important matters in their lives-such as attending school on a daily basis.”
By the same token, according to the court, “it is unfair to require children to be policing their parents’ relationships and they should not be forced to pass judgment on any present or future love interest that either parent may have.”
In this regard, the court expressed that the children should be free to spend time with their father without being afraid they might disappoint their mother or hurt her feelings if their father’s girlfriend is present.
In any case, the New Jersey Family Court has acknowledged, however, that if a new dating partner poses an unreasonable risk of physical or emotional harm to the child, the court may potentially grant a parent’s application to restrict that specific person around the child.
Such risks include if the new dating partner has a history of child abuse, or is violent, or harasses the child, or actively misuses and chronically abuses drugs.
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