Can I refuse to co-operate with the contact provisions set out in my Parenting Plan in the event of my ex-spouse exposing my children to a new partner that I don’t like?
Can I refuse to allow my children to have overnight visits at my ex’s home in the event of the new partner also staying over at the house ?
Can I get an interdict preventing my ex from having the children in the same environment as his/her new partner?
Can I get a Court Order insisting that my ex enables me to first meet with the new partner before introducing the children to the new partner ?
The aforesaid are just some examples of the types of questions that Family Law Attorneys face when dealing with the issue of new partners coming onto the scene in a divorce matter or post the divorce.
The Law recognises divorced couples as having the right to form new relationships without there being any unnecessary outside interference in the relationship. Often, where there are children involved in the equation, considerations of permitting third party contact with the children are somewhat more complex and revolve not only around the need to balance the parent’s assumed right to form a new relationship but also the children’s constitutional rights, more specifically the right and requirement that all actions undertaken by the parent serves the best interests of the children.
While there is essentially very little that a parent can do to stop their ex from exposing the children to their new relationship, if it can be shown on substantial grounds that the third party’s involvement in the children’s life does not meet their best interests, the Courts may well be inclined to consider curtailing to some extent such involvement alternatively to putting safeguards in place.
Many times however the issue concerning the involvement of third parties in a child’s life emanates more from the issue of jealousy and/or fear that a new partner may end up “replacing” that parent, than from actual concerns about the children’s physical and emotional well-being whilst in the company of the new partner.
Before engaging in long drawn-out legal processes which may not even result in a favourable outcome for the parent or the children, regard should be had to
- the actual nature of the concerns which the parent has regarding the new partner;
- what their motive is for curtailing contact between the children and the new partner and or ex-spouse;
- the nature of the relationship between the children and the new partner and the partner’s extended family;
- the length of the relationship between the children and the new partner;
- the new partner’s lifestyle, parenting style and disciplining style;
- the influence that the new partner has had on the children;
- the quality of the children’s relationship with the third party; and
- the impact which the legal process will ultimately have on the children.
Disputes concerning family matters should ideally in the majority of cases be dealt with at mediation, rather than through the legal process. The advantages of mediation are manifold and include among other things the saving of time and money. An additional advantage applicable in matters such as the one discussed here-above is that mediation is less likely to destroy delicate family relationships and interactions and is better suited for considerations which have long-term family impact.
Where reconciliation by the parents is no longer on the agenda and where divorce is their only perceived way forward, the parents should ideally be encouraged to discuss the inevitably of this and their other parenting concerns and considerations at mediation, prior to the finalization of their Parenting Plan. The proposals regarding future protection of the children from unnecessary trauma caused by third party introductions could then be recorded in their Parenting Plan. The advantage of this is that they will at least then be able to avoid subsequent dispute and chaos in the lives of their children.