As we welcome in the season of joy, there may be a few things weighing on you as you proceed with your divorce. Holidays may look different than they did in years past and it is time to prepare for the season with your new life in mind. Now that your ex is dating, you have concerns about how to handle the children’s schedule with a new person in the mix. You don’t feel comfortable with your ex introducing a new person to your children, what should you do?
This is a sensitive topic that many co-parents navigate as they embark on a new journey. However, with new beginnings come new problems. Where you are in your divorce proceedings will inform what steps you should take to handle your ex’s new significant other. Before we dive into the logistics of navigating this sticky situation, refer to 7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Co-Parenting. This article provides useful tips on communicating with your co-parent. Let’s dig into the ways you should navigate next steps!
You are Separated, but There’s No Custody Decree or Judgment
If you and your ex have split, but haven’t obtained a custody decree, you may find yourself in a gray area as it relates to your ex’s new partner at Christmas. Without a custody agreement to outline the expectations of the children’s care, both parents may be presumed to be acting in the best interest of the children, although either may disagree with the actions of the other. This is a pivotal point in the process to ensure your concerns are addressed.
- Contact an Attorney
If you have not found a divorce lawyer, it’s a good time to start shopping for legal representation. Consider setting up a consultation with a lawyer to discuss your concerns. These services can result in sound advice to the question at hand, or turn into full time representation. A lawyer will listen to your concerns and provide advice as you proceed with your case. During your meeting, you should outline your expectations. They will fight for your interests as it relates to the children and provide avenues to handle your ex’s new partner.
You should prepare for your meeting by highlighting specific concerns. Think about what sort of arrangement would work best for your situation. While your immediate concern might be about a pesky new partner, custody agreements include many facets including: education expectations, child care arrangements, exchanges, holiday schedules, travel rules, medical decisions, co-parent communication, religious guidelines, guests, and more. This process will dictate how your children are raised in a co-parenting situation. It cannot be stressed enough how pivotal this part of the process is for the safety of your children. Speaking with an attorney early in the process will put your mind at ease and clearly outline who can meet your children.
Without a custody agreement, your ex may introduce their new significant other to the children during the holiday season. What if your ex is dating someone that you do not approve of? Perhaps their new partner has a criminal record or you’ve observed certain behaviors that you do not condone. If you are concerned about your partner’s new partner, an attorney is the best place to start. They can navigate the legal landscape in the interim while reaching an agreement in the long term.
- Setting Goals
If you are unsure how to convey your concerns with a co-parent, you should discuss your goals and potential outcomes with an attorney or parenting coordinator. They can provide pointers as they’ve seen these situations playout in various ways throughout their careers. If you need assistance coming up with a plan of action, or simply figuring out what works best for you, there are additional resources you can leverage in the process. Consider working with a divorce coach. Having a divorce coach from start to finish will assist you in clearly defining your goals and working through the emotional aspect of pursuing them.
During the goal setting process, think about the concerns you have about co-parenting before your divorce is finalized. Make a list of the things that are keeping you up at night including:
- Your children’s contact with other parties
- Your children’s schedules
- Expenses relating to your children
- Religious activities
- Extracurricular activities
- Communication and meeting schedule with your ex
- Child care plans for your children
Consider how your ex may respond to your wishes for each of these topics; do you think they would be receptive or dismissive? All of these pieces of information will help you set goals with a coach or discuss effectively with your ex.
When you set your goals, remember you might need to be flexible with your co-parent. There might be non-negotiable items under the above bullet points and it is okay to remain firm in your convictions. However, depending on how your ex responds, you may need to seek other avenues with your coach and attorney.
- Discussing with your Ex
Once you’ve created your action plan, it is time to set a time to discuss your expectations with your ex. Try not to fixate on one specific topic during this conversation. While your main concern might be your ex’s new partner, it is best to focus wholistically on the children so as to not exacerbate a sensitive topic. If your ex is dating someone new, regardless of how serious the relationship is, a conversation to specifically call out the ex’s partner may not be well received. Instead, choose to focus on the entire list you’ve created which should include expectations around who the children will be around. Keep in mind that there are sure to be things that you are doing that your ex may not agree on. Offer to adjust some of your actions in exchange for your ex adjusting their behavior. This strategy allows you to build common ground with your ex while still achieving your goals.
Before the conversation, make sure you have your list of topics outlined with talking points and non-negotiables below each topic. This allows for a smooth conversation with your co-parent. Reach out to your ex in writing, if it is safe and legal to do so, to set a time to discuss. Provide them with your list of high-level topics you would like to discuss so you can both come to the table with your thoughts well prepared. This allows them to not feel blindsided. You should NOT provide your expectations or non-negotiables to your ex, those details are best reserved for the conversation.
During the conversation, go through the list of topics and discuss your key points and non-negotiables. Attempt to reach consensus with your ex during these conversations. You should not come out of the gate barking demands and stating something as “non-negotiable”. Try using “we-statements” to build trust. For example, “how should we handle new partners? I would prefer that the children not meet new partners during this process as they already have a lot to navigate, and I don’t think we should overwhelm them with new people.” Statements like these allow you to build consensus through acting as a team. It also does not sound as pointed as specifically stating the name of your partner’s new significant other. As you go through the topics, take notes. You might not be able to reach consensus on everything and that is okay. Avoid unhealthy confrontations during this conversation. If you find that you are not able to reach consensus, you can engage a parenting coordinator. When parents find themselves truly unable to communicate with each other, a co-parenting coordinator may be your solution. Co-parenting involves a lot of decisions, big and small. Co-parenting coordinators step in as a third party and advise how best to parent together.
After you’ve discussed your expectations with your co-parent, review your notes, and share them with your co-parent in writing. This paper trail is critical in documenting what you’ve agreed upon. Do not agree to anything, verbally or in writing, that makes you uncomfortable. Undecided topics are best to be documented as unresolved. Share those notes separately with your attorney. Even if you reach an agreement on these topics during a conversation, your co-parent may not hold up their end of the bargain. If you decided that your children would not meet a new partner during the holidays, and your co-parent still introduces them to the children, you should contact your attorney.
The Divorce is Finalized
If your divorce is already finalized, you likely have a custody agreement in place. Custody agreements vary in complexity and detail. When it comes to your ex’s new partner, that could already be covered in your custody agreement, or it may not be specifically outlined. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your wishes are heard.
- Review your Custody Agreement
Start by obtaining a copy of your custody agreement and reviewing it with an attorney. If you do not have an attorney, consider scheduling a consultation with a lawyer to discuss your concerns. Reviewing this document will create a baseline for you to proceed. The custody agreement may already bar the children from meeting new partners or it may allow for these introductions. Whatever the case, you should leave the meeting with a better understanding of your custody agreement and next steps.
- Amending a Custody Agreement
If your custody agreement is not in line with your desires, you can petition for a change. This formal process allows you to change specific items relating to the care of your children. An attorney can help you navigate the legal landscape as you embark on this journey. Come prepared for this discussion with a clear description of what you want changed and supporting evidence for why you want this change. This information will allow your attorney to make a strong case for the requested change.
- Enforcing a Custody Agreement
If your custody agreement already bars co-parents from introducing significant others, you are in luck! This legal document outlines specific rules and there are penalties for breaking those rules. If your ex recently started dating someone, and you believe they plan to introduce your children to that person, respectfully remind them of the custody agreement. Avoid being accusatory and remain factual in your reminder. Get in front of the problem while leaning on the agreement you already have in place. Unfortunately, custody agreements can be broken. If you suspect your ex has broken the custody agreement, contact your attorney for assistance. They will take action to remedy the situation on your behalf and hold your ex accountable for the breach.
With holidays around the corner, act now to ensure your mind is at ease for the holiday season! Contact our list of professionals today for support.