When you have an ongoing child custody dispute and you’re headed to mediation, you may want to include your new romantic partner in your parenting decisions. But how do you determine the appropriate way to include them?
Think about the relationships you have with your child’s other parent and with your new partner. Those relationships, by their nature, are different. In mediation, you should primarily focus on your co-parenting responsibilities with the other parent.
You and your new partner can discuss expectations and boundaries
Before you go to mediation with the other parent, you can have your own conversations with your new partner.
Don’t assume your new partner knows what you’re negotiating with the other parent. Your dispute may seem obvious to you, but your partner doesn’t know your parenting history unless you share that information. You may want to let your partner know what you’re negotiating with the other parent, especially if they’ll be affected by the outcome.
Keep your new partner in the loop about how often you’re planning to see your child’s other parent. For example, if you’ll exchange the child twice a week, your new partner likely wants or needs information about how those exchanges happen. This may prevent them from feeling confused or surprised when they hear you’ve had conversations with the other parent.
Your new partner can’t do much to control your relationship — amicable or not — with your child’s other parent. Your new partner can only accept the situation, cooperate and avoid escalating tension.
Try to reach a shared vision with your new partner about their role as a caring, responsible adult in your child’s life.
Don’t bring your new partner to mediation with the other parent
When you hire a mediator to help you reach a parenting decision, the dispute and the decision are between you and the other parent. Who else is required, permitted or forbidden to attend your mediation session depends on local laws and your mediator’s ground rules. Lawyers often attend.
Mediators usually discourage people who aren’t directly involved in the dispute from attending. An “extra” person in mediation would overhear personal details and probably can’t nudge you toward agreement. Their presence might be a distraction.
Consider how enthusiastic you’d be to spend time with the other parent’s new partner, especially in a session you’re paying for, and then think about whether the other parent might feel similarly toward your new partner.
A possible exception is if you’ve already married your new partner. A spouse may be legally or financially impacted by your negotiations. The mediator and your lawyer can tell you if it’s appropriate to bring your new spouse.
Prepare for child custody mediation as best you can, but don’t plan on using the session for emotional support. Trust the mediator to guide the conversation. Although they can’t pick sides and it’s not their role to console you, they can structure the session to help you make fair decisions.
A parenting plan can acknowledge your new partner
Instead of bringing your new partner to your in-person negotiations, try recognizing them in writing. A parenting plan is a good place to do that.
You may draft a proposal and then negotiate the parenting plan in mediation.
You can even include a section of provisions about parents’ romantic partners.
One helpful provision concerns what the child should call future parental figures. If you and the other parent have always been “Mom” and “Dad,” then what should your child call your current or future romantic partners? If you aren’t sure yet, you can make a more general statement that the names “Mom” and “Dad” are taken and that your child should not be encouraged to use any similar name for a new parental figure.
You can also promise not to discuss your romantic relationships with your child in a way that is age-inappropriate for them, and you can agree to consult with the other parent before announcing a new marriage.
In your parenting plan, you can include a general reminder for you and the other parent to avoid name-calling and negative comments about each other and about your partners and families.
Your new partner’s role regarding your child
As long as your new partner isn’t the legal parent of your child, they aren’t obligated to financially support them. Also, they don’t share custody of your child — you and the other parent do.
However, if you’re living with a new partner, your joint expenses may be used in child support calculations, and your partner might play the role of a parental figure to your child.
Keep a realistic view of your new partner’s legal relationship (or lack thereof) to your child while honoring and developing the important ways they may connect with and help raise your child.
From the Indisputably Blog This is the second in a five-part series on advice to law students and young professionals interested in ADR as a career. The series is intended to...By Heather Scheiwe Kulp