Living Together, Breaking Apart – Cohabitation and Custody Modification

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Custody, Motion to Modify, and Divorce on Saturday September 14, 2013

We live in a time where more and more couples divorce and fewer and fewer couples choose to marry, especially after divorce.  Once considered social stigma, living together without any intent to marry has become increasingly common.  If a residential parent under a custody order chooses to cohabitate indefinitely with his or her new partner and the partner’s children, is that a wise move for the children?  Is that a problematic move for retaining custody in the future?

A recent article on the Huffington Post describes the psychological and sociological research on custodial parents who cohabitate.  It turns out that most post-divorce attempts at cohabitation do not turn out well (not surprising given that the odds of a marriage lasting is less than 1 in 2).  Worse, the literature suggests that putting children in these positions, where they bond with new “family” and create expectations of a future together, suffer serious loss after these relationships end.  Consequently, many of these children will have attachment and trust issues going forward, not simply as children but perhaps as adults as well.

These studies should serve as a strong warning to all parents after divorce to resist the temptation to blend families too quickly, if at all.  A good rule of thumb to follow would be to try to keep a dating life separate from the family life with your children, leaving any blending issues to a time when a decision on marriage looks probable.

The choices parents make regarding cohabitation could result in a basis for a custody modification.  Any change in circumstances that no longer serves the best interests of the child would allow a court to alter custody.  A parent that puts a child through one or more cohabitations and subsequent breakups could be causing demonstrable psychological and emotional harm to the child, as well as creating an unstable home environment, both of which could serve as the basis for modification.  Worse, a parent could choose to cohabitate with someone whose parenting style or other habits (use of alcohol, verbally or physically abusive) creates an imminent threat to the child.  Exercising poor judgment in cohabitation could cost you more than just a failed relationship; it could cost you your children.

If you have questions about dating after divorce and custody modification, contact us – we can help.