Visitation Issues in Family Court: Girlfriends and Boyfriends

The Visitation Chronicles:  Part One- What about the girlfriend?  Or boyfriend?  By MJ Goodwin

 

Custody and visitation questions are among the most difficult questions faced in Family Court.  A Family Court Judge is called upon to decide which parent is the “custodial parent”, or the one who does most of the child raising, and which parent is the “visiting parent”, or the one who sees the child less than the custodial parent.  The Court is also called upon to issue various rules and restrictions on how the parties live their day to day lives around the children.  Many “boilerplate” restrictions result in very difficult, often antiquated situations for everyone involved.   A smart lawyer will counsel clients to avoid these often very limiting restrictions and to think long term instead.

Ideally, parents simply agree on a schedule and share time.  Unfortunately, Family Court cases are often less than ideal situations.  Parents harbor resentment toward one another and may even hate one another.  This can spell disaster for children, who live at the mercy of their parents.   Parents may contest joint custody or shared placement for financial reasons or even out of spite.  Or they may have legitimate concerns for the welfare of the children in the care of the other parent.

It always better for children to have two healthy (physically, mentally and emotionally) and involved parents.  I typically counsel my clients that the only times it is wise to fight a liberal visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent are cases involving child abuse, parental drug or alcohol abuse, parental criminal behavior or parental mental illness; in short, real, legitimate safety issues for the children.

What comes up, almost invariably, is the girlfriend or boyfriend issue.  For reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog, many people jump from a divorce to a new, often serious, sexual relationship.  This leaves the other parent in the position of hearing about the new significant other from the children, who will either love her or hate her[1].  If they love her, the mother may feel threatened and, due to her own insecurity, want to restrict the time the girlfriend has around the children.  If they hate her, the mother may feel that she needs to protect the children and restrict the amount of time that they are around the girlfriend.  Both positions are wrong, unless there is something demonstrable and seriously wrong with the girlfriend.

The Family Court will, if asked, typically issue restraining orders against exposing minor children to paramours at all during litigation and overnight after a divorce.   These restraining orders are burdensome and prevent relationships from moving forward.  They are also much more burdensome on the custodial parent, long term.  So it is important to not scream for a restraining order just because the other side got a new significant other first.   The order will be almost impossible to remove once it is in place.  The only way around it is to marry the paramour.

It is always desirable to have as few rules as are possible.  This is particularly true for Court ordered rules that carry potential jail time if they are broken.  Therefore, I counsel all clients to think seriously about the consequences of any particular restraining order.  What sounds good right now, and may be even more desirable because it sounds like it might hurt your spouse, could very well come back to make your own life miserable in the future.  The hard feelings will eventually wear off and both parties will want to, and should, move on with their lives.  Restrictions that just seek to control the other party, via restrictions on that party’s time with the children should be avoided.

MJ Goodwin has practiced Family Law in Anderson, South Carolina for 25 years.  If you have a custody or visitation situation that you need help with, email mj@mjgoodwin.com

 

 

[1] These principles would apply whether the husband or wife gets the significant other.  “Her” is used for simplicity.

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