Your divorce is behind you. You’ve moved on. Although the process may have been daunting, exhausting, and emotionally challenging, you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and are ready to start a new relationship. With this new-found attitude comes concern about introducing your new Mr./Ms. Right to your children—children who may still be confused by the break-up of the family they knew. Here are some things to consider when thinking about introducing a new significant other to the kids.
Is the Timing Right?
I’m often asked, “When is the right time to introduce my new boyfriend/girlfriend to my children?” The answer: There is no answer because there is no magic “right time.” This often depends on the ages of the children, cultural issues, and what their experience was through the divorce process. If the children were put through a psychological evaluation to determine custody in the underlying divorce matter, they may need time to understand the process, and what their role was. This is certainly true if, as a result of that best interests’ evaluation, a determination was made as to which parent they should live with.
Children under the age of 10 don’t have the same coping mechanisms as older children may and introducing a child to a significant other too quickly may have harmful backlash. On the other hand, children may be happy to see mom or dad smiling again because of a new relationship after watching them undergo stress, tears, and heartache. Many of my clients seek the services of a children’s therapist to address their individual family dynamics and come up with the appropriate time to make the introduction.
What About Having Your New Significant Other Spend the Night?
This is probably the question I get asked the most. You have now introduced your significant other to your children and would like to start integrating this new person into your family, which includes having them stay the weekend rather than just come for dinner. This is tricky, especially for young children who may be confused by watching another man or woman stay with mom or dad. This can also be difficult if the kids still have a false hope that their parents will reconcile.
Watching mom or dad engage in a new relationship, while they do not have closure and are experiencing the “loss” of the family they remember and miss, can have damaging effects. Again, in this situation, many of my clients work with family therapists to assist their children with the journey. You may think that the divorce happened just to you, when in fact, the children also often experience the trauma and loss. Having someone else step into the role of mom or dad in the house, before they are ready, can lead to a less than favorable start to a new relationship not only for the parent, but for the new family unit.
Is Your New Significant Other a Good Fit for the Family?
Although your next relationship is very personal to you, and the type of person you will be dating is based on very specific personal needs, when young children are involved you must consider if the person is a good fit for the family. For example, if you raised your children with certain religious beliefs, take special care when introducing a new partner of a different faith. Special attention must be paid to the holidays. Although it may be exciting for you, as part of a new relationship, to attend Christmas dinner at your new significant other’s home, for children who have never celebrated Christmas, but rather Hanukkah, this may be very confusing. This may also lead to acrimony with your former spouse, as many couples have very specific clauses having to do with religious upbringing of their children post-divorce. I often remind my clients that their Marital Settlement Agreements and Custody Judgments are living, breathing documents, and a sure way to invite post-judgment litigation is to ignore the provisions they contain.
Avoid Showering the Kids with Gifts to Win a Significant Other’s Affection
Remember that money can’t buy love. My clients want their children to like their new partners. However, it is important that you explain to your significant other that showering children with gifts may backfire. Too much too soon can have the opposite effect. It may also cause a backlash from your ex-spouse, who may be struggling to meet his/her financial obligations while watching a new third party be the “fun parent.”
It’s important to keep in mind that a new relationship post-divorce impacts the entire family— the new one you hope to build, and the old one you must now reinvent for the sake of the children. Remembering that when weighing decisions will make everyone happier in the long run.
Karolina A. Dehnhard is a member of the law firm Norris McLaughlin, P.A., and Chair of its New Jersey Matrimonial & Family Law Practice Group. Karolina has appeared on various TV shows and news programs. She has published articles on family law topics in numerous print publications, including North Jersey Woman Magazine, Industry Magazine, VUENJ, and various Polish publications. In addition, she co-authored a chapter in “Understanding the Legal Issues Surrounding Same-Sex Marriage.” She is also the co-host of two radio shows, “The Law Matters” on WMTR Radio and “There’s Always a Way Out,” hosted in Polish, on Radio RAMPA.
Karolina has been a featured presenter at numerous women in business events on topics including women protecting their assets, becoming the CEO of your home, planning for the future, and promoting financial awareness before and during a divorce. She has also taken part in U.S. delegations to Ireland, Cuba, and Spain, to develop international business relations among women in business. Karolina was recognized by the Trade and Investment Section of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland for her influence and leadership in integrating women-owned businesses in both Poland and the United States. In 2018, she launched the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce, North-East, covering Maine to Florida, with a focus on creating business opportunities for both American and Polish businesses. In this role, she speaks globally on international business relations between the U.S. and Poland. Karolina is also the Ambassador of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs Short Hills Leadership Lounge, a platform dedicated to the advancement of women globally, and has been named to the Southern New Jersey Advisory Board for Investors Bank.
Named to the “Top Women in Law” in 2018 by the New Jersey Law Journal, Karolina was also recognized in 2016 as one of the “Top 25 Leading Entrepreneurs in New Jersey.” She was also selected as a “Rising Star” by New Jersey Super Lawyers® and received the 2018 Leadership Award presented by the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, a charity she has supported for more than a decade.