I know, I know, divorce is hell. You’ve been through the wringer. You’re curious about tinder. Fine. No one can stop you. But people, please, be aware. If you have children with your ex, the rules are different. No longer are you single in Vegas, even if technically you are actually single and in Vegas, because somewhere out there is an ex, the other parent to your child or children, to whom because of this fact you are connected to FOREVER. Therefore. ANY and ALL agreed to stipulations within the decree can be enforced. So, before revamping your wardrobe or dyeing your hair to whatever color you dream it might have been before your decision to marry, STOP. Ask yourself this question. WHAT DID I AGREE TO? Then really think about it. ‘I don’t remember’ is not an acceptable answer. Call your lawyer if need be. Within a decree is sometimes what some refer to as a “morality clause”—call it what you will. Often this is an injunction during the period of separation, rules to follow for the sake of your children as you undergo divorce proceedings. For instance, no introducing the kids to your new romantic interest even if you believe that person is the ‘one’. No overnights. No swiping left or right in plain sight.
Jonathan, you might be asking, why does this matter? This is why I GOT A DIVORCE. To meet new People! I get it. Yes, the divorce is or will soon be over. But guess what? You, when you decide to bring children into the world together, are connected to this person long after the divorce is final. If you want to maintain a positive relationship with your kids, this realization is beyond imperative. You will never NOT be your children’s mother or father. So, regardless the spiteful torture your spouse may have dragged you through, irrespective of how sweet retaliation may seem, take the long view. What’s the best you can do here? Who is the best you can be? Not for your ex. For your kids. For you.
- In addition to following whatever stipulations included in the decree, communicate with the ex about important relationships even though you are not required to do so. Once you’ve been dating someone exclusively for a reasonable amount of time, or you’re thinking of engagement, buy the mother or father of your children lunch and tell them that you would like them to meet Benny or Betty first, before the kids do. The good will this could create is beyond measure. And if it doesn’t, you know you tried. So do your kids. Isn’t that what really matters?
- Speaking of your kids, do strike a balance. You don’t need to introduce them to everyone you take on a date. Your private life is private for a reason. But you know when a relationship is becoming something more. When that time arrives, talk to the ex and ideally offer for your ex to meet with your new partner, then introduce your kids to the equation.
- Be aware that your post-divorce dating can have an effect on your custody arrangement. Don’t unknowingly set yourself up for a modification. Those pesky details—Joe was in rehab or Cindy actually lives in her parent’s basement and does sell gummies—can matter to your kid’s living arrangements. You need to understand who this person is that you are dating. What is his or her background? Have they been involved in any way with domestic violence or had any trouble with the law? Sure, these questions are mood killers and don’t need to be dealt with on date one. But if it’s been months and you’re talking honeymoon destinations, start this particular dialogue. Anyone who balks or won’t cooperate with this conversation, which is occurring for the well-being of your children, isn’t worth your time. Think of it as an “are you worth my trouble to even consider a lifetime with” litmus test.
- If the person you are dating also has kids, think through possible complications. If her son is sixteen and your daughter is thirteen, how awkward would moving in together be? Maybe it’s not going to ruin the relationship, but it will have to be dealt with one. way or another.
- If you’re the “single” ex, (though it might be understandable) DO NOT be intimidated or threatened by the new relationship. Do not treat someone you don’t know as if they are your enemy. Sure, they could be. But they could also be someone who will be around your children (whether you like it or not). So, it’s better to see if you can look at him or her as an ally—a possible positive influence for you kid—and it helps your kids to see you react that way. No one ever replaces you as mom or dad but understanding the new circumstance can be helpful for all involved.
- If you’re the new girlfriend or boyfriend, DO NOT overstep boundaries. Remember, you are not the decision maker. Don’t put yourself in the middle of situations over which you have little control, even if you’re just trying to be helpful. Your role is not to talk to the ex about pick up from soccer for your boyfriend’s kid because mom and dad can’t stand to talk to each other. Don’t enable mom and dad to be babies or refuse to communicate because they know you’ll take it on. You might be the stepmom, but you are not the messenger (remember what happens to the messenger?). Someday the exes will be forced to talk about college visits and rehearsal dinners. They should practice now with braces and band practice. Step off!
Dating post-divorce is a reality. Sometimes a person even chooses to date or even marry a person with whom he or she had an affair that was at least partially responsible for the breakup. Unfortunately, some people—regardless of parental status—do not play fair or kind. This is maddening. But your kid didn’t ask for it, either. Remember the relationship you want to protect. Predictability and consistency for any kids are key. It helps to keep in mind the analogy of a marathon versus a sprint. Okay? Be safe out there.
About the Author
Jonathan James is a family law attorney with Hance Law Group, PC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.