Authored By: Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "
QUESTION: I filed for divorce from my spouse and it was granted. About 10 days after my Rhode Island divorce hearing I met someone and we have been seeing each other frequently for the last month. When can I introduce this new friend to my children?
ANSWER: If you're looking for a basic legal answer then my advice would be that you should stop seeing this person until your divorce is done. This is not because I don't believe you have a right to be happy. If you do not have a Final Judgment in your divorce case then it is not prudent for you to date another person because you are still married and your spouse and/or your spouse's lawyer can delay you from getting a Final Judgment of Divorce from issuing for an extensive amount of time.
Now you might wonder, what would my spouse have to do? Only two things 1) be upset at you, and 2) file a motion of any kind. Of course you know your spouse better than I do. However, in my history as a lawyer I have seen things that you could not make up in your wildest nightmares happen from presumably reasonable and respectful parties in a divorce.
It is very, very easy for a spouse to be upset that you have moved on from your marriage before it is even over. Many spouses, both men and women, find that the other spouse dating before their marriage is even over to be insulting, degrading, hurtful and angering to say the least. All it takes is a little bit of anger for your spouse to file a motion in the family court. What kind of motion? Any kind of motion! All it takes is a pending motion before the court filed sometime near the date when the Final Judgment can be signed in order to prevent the court from finalizing your divorce. Suddenly a divorce that you thought was almost over may now go on for month after month and possibly motion after motion so that you are still married to your spouse. If your spouse knows or even suspects that you are dating someone then it is very easy to file a motion to restrain and enjoin you from having the children around anyone you may be dating as long as the divorce is still going on. If that motion is granted and your spouse is still angry, hurt or in the least bit upset, it is very easy for your spouse to want to keep the divorce going as long as possible so that you can't have the children around the person you are dating. Frankly, it isn't worth it. Better be safe than sorry. In the scope of a lifetime it is better to wait a few months than to suffer for another year or more.
I realize this is not the crux of your question, but it was worth stating it because it goes hand in hand with the more important answer. Introducing your children to someone you are dating is no small matter. Legally, until you are prohibited from doing so you could introduce the children to the person you are dating anytime you want. The question is whether or not that is truly best for your children. Many children have a hard time dealing with the divorce of their parents, especially if they are five years of age or more when they start making the identification of their parents as a couple.
The parents are typically the foundation that keeps the children consistent because the child knows they can rely on their parents as a team to keep their world together because they can depend on them to be there. While divorce is a reality for many married couples in the psyche of a child a divorce can often signify the destruction of their stability. Each child is different. Each child's feelings and age should be considered. The amount of time you have been separated should be factored in. The children need to get used to the idea that the parents will no longer be living under the same roof. The children need to be supported by both parents so that the children realize that their stability in having two parents is still present after the parents are no longer living together with them in the same household.
Once the children have adjusted to the idea that their parents will still provide them with stability even if they are not in the same household, it is my humble opinion that then you might slowly introduce a person that you have been dating to the children so long as that person has been a stabilizing factor in your life. Remember, that any new person you introduce to your children needs to be a stabilizing factor for them. If you haven't been with this person long enough to establish a solid, strong, stable and loving relationship with the person, then how can you expect this person to be safe to introduce to your children who are in a much more fragile emotional and mental state?
Most certainly this last part sounds more like counseling advice and is more appropriate to come from a counselor who deals with children of divorce. However, my comments are from direct experience in my own life and in the lives of hundreds of clients over the years.
Personally, I was divorcing before I became a lawyer. I made virtually every mistake that I mention here and I paid a price that no parent should ever have to bear. I wish I had known today what I know now and I regret deeply when a client of mine pays the price because they choose to ignore my advice.
So if you are to remember anything, I ask you to remember one thing. Your relationship with your children is fragile. One poor decision on your part and you might never see your child(ren) again.