This week, in response to an inquiry from a reader, I thought I’d address a common, day-to-day concern that separated or divorced parents may have about custody and access arrangements for their children.
It arises in the context of a common scenario: You and your Ex have split, and he or she has gone on to form a new romantic relationship with someone else. The relationship may be an established one, or it may be brand-new. But either way your concern, quite understandably, may relate to items such as:
• the amount of time the children spend in the new partner’s company;
• the extent of his/her caregiving, and discipline imposed;
• the overall influence that the new partner may have on your children;
• differences in values or lifestyle that the new partner may expose your children to;
• the “message” that the new partner’s presence will convey to your children (e.g. possibly that your own role in their lives is about to diminish, or that you are being outright “replaced”).
You may wonder whether you are legally-entitled to voice your say or have any influence on the situation, particularly if you are not a fan of the new partner personally. Can you refuse to co-operate you’re your Ex’s custody / access entitlement, to avoid having the children spent time with a new partner you don’t like? Can you refuse to allow your children to have overnight visits if the new partner is also staying over at your Ex’s home?
The short answer is (generally): No. You and your Ex both have the right to form new relationships; unless there is a court order in place that expressly prohibits your Ex from exposing your children to any new romantic partners (which, frankly, is rare) then there may be little that you can do.
Of course this presumes that your Ex has valid custody or access rights and is exercising them in a reasonable and appropriate manner, with no concerns over the child’s health, safety or well-being. If there is doubt, a court will certainly assess the situation from the vantage point of what is in the children’s best interests. But – leaving aside any normal human resentment or jealousy of your own – the motives for blocking your children’s access to a new partner are likely not based on any legally-recognized concerns. In other words: You probably just have to live with it.
With that said, the situation might be different if you and your Ex have expressly agreed not to expose the children to a new partner (or to do it only gradually) and that agreement is breached. It may give rise to dispute between the two of you, which in turn may prompt friction on the bigger issues of custody and access.
This was precisely the scenario in a case called Billard v. Billard,  N.S.J. No. 350, 2014 NSSC 246, where the court described the conflict this way:
The parties disagree on whether [the child] responded well to the weekly arrangement. They do agree that Jeremy does better with a structured routine.
The parties had discussed and agreed to a slow introduction of new partners, and that [the child] would not be taken overnight to a new partner’s home. When [the mother] learned that [the child] was spending time at [the new girlfriend’s] home, she raised safety concerns about the presence of a large pit bull dog and a ball python. She also requested [the new girlfriend’s] address, which was not provided.
These simmering issues came to a head the night of November 23, 2013, when [the mother] removed [the child] from the home of [the father’s girlfriend … who] was caring for [the child] while [the father] went out with friends.
That incident significantly eroded the relationship between the parties. Access became difficult as a result.
In these kinds of situations, a court may regulate the children’s exposure to the new partner and rule on the extent to which they are to be left in that person’s care (if any), all as part of a custody / access order that binds the parents.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Billard v. Billard,  N.S.J. No. 350, 2014 NSSC 246
At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com.