For many separating or divorcing couples with minor children, the last thing on their minds is a new romantic relationship. It’s all they can do to get out of their current soured one as fast as possible. However, more than ever, I’m realizing the importance of couples thinking through and establishing some guidelines for future dating relationships and including them in court decreed parenting plans.
I recently did a mediation for a young couple with a 5-yr. old daughter. A year after their separation, the mother started including her new boyfriend and his adolescent son into her scheduled parenting time with her daughter. When the daughter's father got wind of this, he was very angry and concerned that mom hadn't consulted with or even informed him before she exposed their daughter to this man and his son. He was sick with worry about his daughter’s safety and how this new relationship could confuse and negatively impact her.
Understanding and agreeing to dating guidelines can help preempt conflict and foster more productive communication between parents. It’s important that parents consider such questions as: How long should a parent wait before introducing a new romantic interest to their children? What wording should be used when making introductions? How much time with this person and what activities with the child are appropriate? What might be the impact if the relationship ends?
These issues are difficult and complex, but one thing I know; they are much messier when a parenting plan does not attempt to address them from the get go. Taking the time to think through dating guidelines before dating can spare parents unnecessary conflict and stress. More importantly, it's an extra measure of protection for the children.
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