It's no surprise that many divorcing couples begin dating during their separation and before their divorce is final. After the divorce, it's almost expected. But if you are divorcing someone and have had children together, the family dynamic naturally becomes more complicated, especially where the other parent is concerned. But to what extent? Can the person you're dating ultimately have an impact on your child custody agreement—or can it have a negative effect on custody negotiations?
From a legal standpoint, no. From a practical standpoint, possibly. Let's explain.
How North Carolina Law Views Dating and Custody
There is no law in North Carolina specifically governing when separated couples can begin dating. In fact, you're considered legally separated simply by living in separate residences with the intent to divorce. Likewise, there is no law forbidding dating during child custody negotiations, nor will the courts penalize your custody or visitation rights simply for having a romantic relationship. However, the courts do have a role in deciding what is in the best interests of the child, so if the specific individual you're dating poses any cause for concern regarding the child's safety or well-being, this could affect a judge's ruling on custody or visitation because that person will be more directly involved in the child's life.
Dating, Custody, and Parental Rights
Where you're more likely to find resistance when it comes to dating and child custody is with the other biological parent. If you're dating someone new and the other parent becomes concerned that this person is unfit or dangerous, they may seek to limit your time with your child as a way to protect them from this individual. Both biological parents have equal rights to their children unless one of you gives up those rights, or unless the court takes them away—so if neither of those things has happened, the other parent's opinion of your dating partner does matter when it comes to custody arrangements, and the courts will take their feelings into account.
Avoiding Unnecessary Conflict in Custody Negotiations
If you begin dating someone during your separation, or even after the divorce is final, the best antidote for conflict with the other parent is open communication. If you're both in agreement that your child's safety and well-being come first, then take the time to discuss how much time your new partner will spend with your child and any concerns either of you may have. Make sure the other parent is in the loop and in agreement about how and when to introduce your partner to the child. The more you respect their rights and feelings concerning your child's upbringing and safety, the easier it is to diffuse suspicion and tension when a new dating relationship is brought into the mix.
If your dating relationship does complicate your custody arrangements, our team of experienced family law attorneys can help navigate these tricky waters with you to help you get the best outcome for you and your child. Call us today at (919) 719-2785 or contact us online.