One of the most common issues that comes up after a divorce is finalized is when and how to expose your younger children to new love interests. This scenario can cause a lot of tension and conflict, particularly when parents introduce their kids to their significant other without first talking to the other parent. After all, the last thing a parent wants to hear when their child comes home from a visit with their ex is “I just met Mommy/Daddy’s new boyfriend/girlfriend”.
I address this issue during my divorce mediation sessions when we work out the parenting plan. Though this can be a touchy subject, it is best to have it out in the open ahead of time, so new relationships don’t become revolving doors in your kid’s lives. The topic is usually a bit awkward when it is first brought up, but parents understand the importance of tackling this issue; and after I lead them through it, they are usually very glad they discussed this and made a joint decision ahead of time.
In divorce mediation, I deal with several important issues regarding dating after a divorce, including:
Open Communication with Your Ex: Typically, my clients agree to having a respectful conversation with the other before introducing the kids to someone new. Having this conversation ahead of time gives the other parent a chance to digest the news and work through his/her feelings about it. It also keeps your children out of the unenviable position of not knowing whether or not they can share the news about a new relationship with the other parent.
Timing after a Divorce: For most children, divorce is a very sad occasion that is not unlike the loss of a loved one. Usually, it will take some time to grieve over the breakup of the family. For this reason, it is important to consider how soon after a divorce you want to be introducing someone new into their lives. If you do this too soon, kids may be inclined to resent that person, which can lead to highly strained family relationships.
Length of New Relationship: My divorce mediation clients usually agree to only introduce someone new if they consider it to be a long-term relationship. It is sometimes difficult to pinpoint an exact amount of time, and this will be different for everybody. The main thing to keep in mind is to avoid introducing your kids to people you are just dating casually, because this usually only complicates matters when they are trying to adjust to a divorce.
Sleepovers with New Partners: Another area that needs to be discussed is when it is appropriate to allow your new partner to sleep over while your kids are present. This is something you need to have a frank conversation with your ex about, because it is important that both of you are in agreement on this point.
Best Interests of Children: At the end of the day, it is about what is best for your kids. And as hard as this is to hear, this sometimes means putting your children’s needs ahead of your own. Dating after a divorce is natural, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But you need to make sure you and your ex are always on the same page, and that your decisions are in-keeping with the best interests of your kids.