Meeting someone during or after a separation or divorce can feel like a silver lining, especially if the process was difficult and complicated. While introducing a new romantic partner into the mix may feel exciting and hopeful, it can also present some challenges to co- parenting arrangements.
Co-parenting is undertaken by parents following a separation or divorce, where together you take on the decision making (formerly custody) and parenting of the child(ren) that you share. The co-parenting relationship can be difficult to navigate, especially at the beginning stages of your separation. This arrangement differs from when you and the other parent were in a relationship or married, as the sole focus is now structuring your relationship for the purposes of caring for and acting in the best interests of the child(ren).
When it comes to introducing a new romantic partner, parents are generally at liberty to do what they believe to be in the best interests of their child(ren), unless something specific in a Court Order or Separation Agreement speaks to the issue of how new partners should be introduced. It is advisable, however, that parents separating should nevertheless be planning for the possibility of new romantic partners to mitigate possible conflict around the child(ren). For example, parents may agree that they will wait a certain amount of time when dating before the introduction of a new partner or may agree on the parameters of when new partners can start attending the child(ren)’s extracurricular activities.
If your Separation Agreement or Court Order does not contain co-parenting terms surrounding the involvement of new partners, it is generally best practice to discuss these terms with the other parent well in advance of the introduction to your child(ren), and to give the other parent a “heads up”. Some parents may even want to provide an opportunity to meet with the new partner, prior to introducing them to their child(ren). If a co-parent is not acting in the best interests of the child(ren) surrounding the introduction and involvement of new partners, it may be worth getting legal advice or speaking to a qualified family law mediator on how to address your concerns. Parents should, however, remember that unless there are serious concerns with respect to their child(ren)’s safety, the introduction or involvement of a new romantic partner is not grounds alone for bringing your co-parent to Court. There is no exact law on how to introduce new partners, and therefore, parties should act reasonably and with flexibility to ensure the best interests of the child(ren) are at the forefront.
If you currently do not have a Separation Agreement or Court Order in place that speaks to terms of the introduction of a new romantic partner, below are some helpful tips to consider when introducing new partners to your child(ren):
1. Age of the child(ren):
Age is an important consideration, as younger child(ren) may not be able to fully comprehend the involvement of a new partner. Adolescent child(ren) may have a more difficult time accepting someone new in their lives and may feel threatened by this change. Try to ensure the process by which the introduction takes place is age appropriate. Be patient and allow your child(ren) a period of adjustment.
2. Inform your co-parent of your intention to introduce a new partner to the child(ren):
As co-parents, it is ideal to inform one another of any major events in your child(ren)’s lives. Moreover, if your co-parent first hears of your new love interest from your child(ren), it can damage trust that is crucial to successfully co-parent.
3. Be mindful of social media announcements:
We always hear the expression that it’s not official unless it’s on Facebook or Instagram. Make sure you are in a solid and committed relationship before you announce your new relationship on social media. Your child(ren), their friends and family are often on social media. They should hear about a new relationship from you first before they see it online.
4. Choose the location of the introduction of the new partner wisely:
In these Covid-19 times, this can be tricky. Take the time to ask your child(ren) where they’d like to go and feel comfortable. Ideas include going to a park, a restaurant, or for a walk. If applicable, it is recommended not to invite your new partner’s child(ren) to join you on the first few visits. Meeting a new romantic interest is overwhelming enough, you can save possible stepsiblings for a later date.
5. Ensure that you are following all Covid-19 safety protocols:
As stated, one must always consider the best interests of the child(ren), and this includes health considerations.
6. Always remember you and your co-parent are the parents to your child(ren):
A new romantic partner should not be seen as a “threat” and your co-parent deserves to move on. New partners will not replace the bonds of the original parent-child relationship, and therefore, it is important to support your co-parent and the child(ren) in adjusting to their new partner. As difficult as it might be for you to face, new partners can play a decisive and positive role in your child(ren)’s life and can indeed be a bonus for your family.
7. It is incredibly important to not disparage the new partner in front of your child(ren):
It can be confusing for your child(ren) and create an internal conflict if they feel pressured to “choose sides” or reject a parent’s new partner. If you do have concerns about your co-parent’s new partner, address it with your co-parent directly or speak with a family lawyer or mental health professional specializing in post-separation dynamics.
8. Provide your child(ren) with reassurance that your new partner is not replacing their other parent:
Ensure the child(ren) understand that both you and their other parent will always be there for them. If the child(ren) is suffering from anxiety or stress over the introduction of a new romantic partner, consider family or co-parenting counselling as it may benefit you and your family. Separation and divorce are a challenging time for families, especially when adding a new dynamic into the mix.
9. Ensure that you continue to keep the lines of communication open with your co-parent as your relationship with your new partner evolves and progresses:
The changing dynamics in your new romantic relationship may impact your current parenting arrangement with your co-parent. Ensuring open communication will help avoid disputes regarding the arrangement and help avoid a return to negotiations or court.
It may be necessary to hire a family law lawyer to address your co-parenting arrangements if a new partner is now involved in your life. Here at Mills & Mills LLP, our experienced family law lawyers are happy to assist you during this transitional time to ease stress or worry. To learn more about how we may assist you and to book a consultation, contact us online or by telephone at (416) 863-0125.