New Romantic Partners and Children of Divorce

Jun 3, 2021

In a recent online discussion among attorneys who are also mediators, this topic was raised: When neither spouse is currently dating or otherwise involved romantically with another person, what protocols will be followed for the children when someone new comes into the picture?

In planning for futures after divorce, mediation clients often struggle with this question. In my own mediation sessions, I encourage clients to explore the following with regard to new romantic relationships and their effect on children:

  • Will there be a waiting period from the beginning of a new relationship before a parent introduces a new significant other to the children?
  • Will a parent wanting to make this introduction inform the other parent in advance?
  • Will the other parent have an opportunity to meet the new significant other before the children are introduced?
  • Will there be guidelines about “sleepovers” with the new significant other (i.e., will this be “allowed” when that parent has overnight parenting time with the children)?

Based on the collective wisdom and preferences of the parents, making a plan for something that could likely happen in the future will reinforce the foundation of effective co-parenting.

Arguably, it may be difficult to legally enforce any of the protocols agreed to in mediation and incorporated into a parenting plan. However, I endorse the concept that children benefit from a strong co-parenting relationship. Based on the collective wisdom and preferences of the parents, making a plan for something that could likely happen in the future will reinforce the foundation of effective co-parenting.

In the dialogue that followed this question on my online call, what I found to be particularly interesting was how differently professionals viewed the question of how parents should approach this topic.

One mediator (with extensive experience in working with children of divorce) spoke of the divorce establishing an opportunity for children to have an improved individual relationship with each parent. In divorce the parents both have a renewed focus on their children, instead of on their failed marriage. A new significant other could impact this strengthened relationship and may shift the parent’s focus off the children. That shift may in turn affect the child’s opinion of the new person and perhaps create a loyalty conflict for the child, if there is hostility expressed by the other parent.

Another mediator contributed a different viewpoint, from personal experience. While agreeing that there should be some reasonable time period for the new relationship to have gained a suitable level of significance, the mediator spoke of the work done with the other parent. Together they promoted an environment of acceptance of a new significant other by the children. The positive results for this family included a new person to love the children and an enrichment of the family structure.

What effect a new romantic relationship will have after divorce is something that cannot be easily answered, and, certainly, the answer will be unique for each family. The mediation process embraces the particular circumstances of each couple’s transition and poses hard questions with an aim to create a thoughtful approach to future developments.