An amicable separation and divorce can sometimes become strained when new relationships start.  New significant others often cause new emotional reactions that can subsequently impact parenting. In order to preemptively address the problems that can arise when new relationships start, in collaborative divorce, we often come up with parameters to address significant others. Here are some potential options to consider when thinking about agreements on significant others.  Any or all may be included in a parenting plan.
  • One option is to not allow the children to be introduced to any significant others without agreement of the other parent.
  • Sometimes parents like to have a period of time (such as six months or one year) after the divorce is final when no significant other shall be introduced to the children.
  • An introduction to a significant other may only occur when a neutral parenting expert (such as a child specialist in the collaborative divorce process) recommends that it is appropriate to do so.
  • Parents often keep some aspirational language in the decree such as: “Both parents understand that it is in the best interest of the children to support the children’s relationship with any long-term significant other of the other parent and shall make all reasonable efforts to do so.”
There are a number of ways to address significant others in the parenting plan. Indeed, some work on the front end, can help prevent significant stress and strain later.  Talk to a collaborative professional to learn more.
collaborative divorce optionsThe longer I work as a neutral child specialist, the more important I realize it is to help divorcing parents have meaningful conversations about the possibility that one or both of them will enter into new significant relationships while their children are growing up.  New significant relationships usually generate a range of emotions and reactions in all family members, some of which are unanticipated.  It’s not uncommon for families to re-engage with me when a parent remarries or re-partners to help ensure that children’s best interests are kept at the center of a new family dynamic. New relationships introduce another element of change and uncertainty into co-parenting.  Parenting arrangements for the holidays that were working well may suddenly be called into question.  Boundaries may need new clarification, e.g. who is welcome to attend parent-teacher conferences or take children to their swim meets.  Advance planning and discussions that normalize potential co-parenting road bumps can help parents stay centered on what’s best for their children. Here are five basic considerations regarding new significant relationships:
  1. Give yourself sufficient time to heal.  Divorce is a major life crisis.  Entering into a new relationship too quickly increases the likelihood that you will not have had time to master the emotional and relational lessons to be learned from your marriage so that you can be truly ready for a new significant attachment.
  2. Give your children sufficient time to heal.  Children are deeply affected by a divorce.  Many children tell me the news felt like a bad dream, and what helps them adjust is getting used to the “new normal” over time.  Adding additional changes too quickly can negatively impact children’s energy, focus, emotional stability and resilience.
  3. Inform your co-parent before introducing a new significant other to your children.  This is not only a courtesy between parents, but it also helps keeps children out of the middle when they know the new relationship is not a secret.
  4. If you are co-parenting, any new partner or spouse will need to understand and honor the fact that you have a preexisting lifelong co-parenting relationship.  It can be a big red flag if a new person seems threatened by or not accepting of your co-parenting relationship.
  5. Children may experience insecurity, jealousy or other worries regarding new adults and children who are increasingly present during their time with a parent.  This can be especially challenging if step-children get to spend more actual time with this parent than do his or her own children.  Parents need to stay attuned to their children’s cues about needing attention, and plan dates and special time with them.
When co-parents are prepared to communicate effectively and work cooperatively on behalf of their children, the introduction of new mature significant others to children who are emotionally ready for this change can be a positive experience for all family members.