Divorce Court: The Company You Keep

By Maria E. Matyjaszek

People say you if lay down with dogs you’re going to wake up with fleas. While offensive to my dogs, who have always been flea free (knock on wood), this theory holds true with respect to who you expose your children to over the years.

Just because you divorce or separate from your significant other, no one expects you to become a hermit or monk, never to go out or date again. However, the courts do expect you to make smart choices about who you choose to fraternize with if you have children.

When clients tell me they started dating again, especially during the divorce, I immediately ask if he has a criminal record and if he has met the kids. People make mistakes and sometimes the past really is left behind, so it’s probably not going to cause any concern if you start planning picnics with your new boyfriend and the kids, even if he had a joyriding conviction at age 18.

Then there’s the person who chooses to date a man twice convicted of domestic violence or let a friend who’s facing a drug charge move in to help pay the rent. If you don’t have kids, chances are good no one but your parents and friends are going to judge you. However, when your ex comes over for parenting time, he will notice that “I just went to a Jimmy Buffet concert” smell wafting from your new roommate’s space and start asking questions. Pretty soon these questions lead to an Internet criminal record search and a trip to an attorney’s office.

Even if you don’t expose your children to your new questionable friend, your poor decisions impact your kids – if you can’t make good choices for yourself, there’s concern you won’t make good choices for your kids either. This can be even more concerning if your past contains some of the same mistakes and activities (i.e. drug use, alcohol abuse).

Depending on the seriousness of the criminal charges or convictions, your ex may very well be justified in filing a motion with the court for a no contact order between your children and Mr. or Ms. Not So Perfect, or it could go as far as a change in parenting time and custody. I have seen courts order supervised parenting time, suspend parenting time, or set the matter for a more in depth hearing to determine the outcome, all because of the company one parent chose to keep.

For most people, exposing their children to a violent person or someone with a lengthy criminal record would not be an option under any circumstance. However, emotions can definitely cloud one’s judgment, and the need for rental income can be very tempting when you go from a double to single income household. If you do choose to make new friends with some
unsavory characters, remember that the courts have to look out for the best interest of your children, especially if it appears you are not.

(The author is an associate attorney at the Law Office of Robert Matyjaszek, PLLC, in Jackson. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached at (517) 787-0351 or matyjasz@hotmail.com.)