Can I prevent my ex-spouse from introducing their new partner to my children? A common question posed to Family Law Attorneys revolves around the issue of whether or not a divorcing parent is entitled to prevent the other parent from exposing the children to their new partner.
COMMON QUESTIONS FROM CLIENTS
Questions to attorneys are normally phrased along the following lines:
- 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 POSITION OF THE LAW
In a nutshell, the Law recognizes both you and your ex-spouse as having the right to form new relationships after a divorce without any unnecessary legal interference thereinto. There is essentially very little that a parent can do to stop their ex from having a new relationship and from exposing the children to this new relationship. What must however be borne in mind though is that the decision to introduce the children to the new partner as well as their continued exposure to the new partner, must by necessity submit to the dictates of the children’s best interests. In other words, if such introduction or exposure is not in the children’s best interests (by virtue of, for example, abuse or neglect or threat of abuse by the third party) then regard would certainly need to be had hereto.
Nothing prevents a parent from involving the Court in the situation, whether from the perspective of endeavouring to interdict the ex-spouse and third party from contact with the children or on the other hand, compelling adherence to the contact provisions in the Parenting Plan. The Court would in such a scenario assess the situation from the vantage point of what is in the children’s best interests.
Many times the issue concerning the involvement of third parties in a child’s life emanates more from the issue of jealousy and fear that a new partner may end up “replacing” the parent than from actual concerns about the children’s physical and emotional well-being whilst in the company of the new partner.
THINGS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT
Considerations that are relevant to a determination on this issue include among other things –
- Considerations as to the new partner: their personal circumstances, history and whether or not they pose an actual danger to the children ;
- Considerations as to the children’s current emotional and psychological situation ;
- The amount of time the children will spend or have already spent in the new partner’s company ;
- The nature of the new partner’s care-giving style ;
- The nature of the new partner’s child disciplining style;
- The influence that the new partner has had or may have on the children ;
- Differences in values or lifestyle that the new partner may expose the children to; and
- The “message” that the new partner’s presence will convey to the children.
It is unlikely – except in extreme cases such as abuse and neglect or a history of abuse, neglect, substance abuse or psychological disorder on the part of the new partner – that a Court will make an Order interdicting an ex-spouse’s new partner from having contact with the children, alternatively making an Order curtailing a parent’s contact with the children based on the new partner’s involvement in that parent’s life.
THE ADVANTAGES OF MEDIATION
Disputes concerning the introduction of new partners to the children should ideally be dealt with at mediation rather than through the legal process. Given that among the other numerous advantages of mediation, the mediation process is less likely to destroy delicate family relationships and interactions.
Common sense dictates that parents should ideally consider discussing this issue at mediation prior to the finalization of their Parenting Plan so as to avoid the possibility of future confusion and dispute hereon.