Can a court keep a mother or father from dating after a divorce is finalized?
No. While dating and divorcing can be tricky, a court cannot keep a mother or father from seeing another person socially, as this would restrict his or her basic rights. In some cases, however, a court can keep a parent from bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend into the children’s lives.
When can a court make such a restriction?
If the other parent files a motion with the court and it can be proven at a hearing that the relationship with the boyfriend or girlfriend is harmful to the children, then the court may issue an order prohibiting the parent from allowing his/her children to be around the boyfriend or girlfriend.
Does the court decide one parent’s dating relationship is harmful to the children based on the accusation of the other parent?
The court won’t decide such an issue based solely on the other parent’s testimony. The court will use the “direct adverse impact” test to make such a determination. “Direct adverse impact” is a test the court applies to consider moral principles and/or evidence of a parent’s questionable moral conduct, but only in relation to the direct or probable effect of the parent’s conduct on the child. If the court finds that the parent’s conduct is having a direct negative effect on the children, then the court may order a restriction on the dating parent from bringing his/her children around a boyfriend or girlfriend. The parent asking for the restriction must have credible testimony of independent witnesses or experts who will testify that the boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s association with the children is having a harmful effect on them. The direct adverse impact test helps to ensure that a judge does not hand down a decision based on his or her own personal moral code.
Will the children be asked to testify about harm a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend may be causing them?
A parent who wants the court to interview the children generally will file a motion requesting such an interview. However, since the court tries to avoid bringing children into the courtroom, the interview is conducted in the office of the judge or magistrate.
Might a parent’s moral conduct influence a court when deciding the children’s living arrangements?
Yes. If the parent’s moral conduct – whether in a dating relationship or otherwise – can be shown to have a direct adverse effect upon the children, it may demonstrate to the court that the parent uses poor judgment, and may raise questions about the parent’s long-term parenting skills. Accordingly, the court may consider such conduct in deciding whether or not to award sole custody to the other parent. Further, the court may restrict the visitation rights of a parent who subjects his or her children to harmful conduct.