By Lenore Skonal for Divorce360.com
No. It’s the resounding answer to the question: Should you have a member of the opposite sex spend the night while you are divorcing, or even newly divorced?
“If there are children involved, overnight guests are a no-no,” says Kathy Stafford, 50, relationship coach and author of Relationship Remorse. “Children do not and should not have to deal with an endless stream of ‘new dads’ or ‘new moms.’ If you want to have a sexual relationship with someone new, that's OK. Just don't do it with the kids at home.”
And in her opinion, it doesn’t matter how old they are. “Children of any age are traumatized enough by the separation of their parents. I know that a lot of my clients say, ‘But my kids are older and they understand about sex. They know I like to have a sexual relationship.’ While that might be true, just remember the example that you are setting is that it’s OK to have sex with people you aren’t married to. I think that is a bad example to set. Monkey see monkey do.”
Morality aside, there are more pressing legal implications to consider when entertaining overnight guests while your children are in the house, especially if you are just separated and dealing with custodial issues.
“It’s never a good idea, but not even for the moral reasons or even the kids. I am thinking of it from a litigious point of view. We have had many cases that we have surveilled and that can be brought to light during the litigation and can jeopardize child support,” says Thomas Martin, 63, a private investigator and former FBI agent from Newport Beach, Calif. “You have to remember, at least in California, if you have someone stay overnight for three nights, and they don’t have to be consecutive, that can be considered co-habitating.”
And if there is a clause in your agreement or divorce decree that ties alimony or child support to co-habitation or can financially penalize you for having another adult sharing your living space, all of that can be jeopardized. And it might also cause some problems with your custody of your children.
“I would caution the client in terms of custodial issues down the road that it is not good judgment if you start having a trail of people through your house,” agreed Judy Poller, partner and co-chair of the Family Law Group at Pryor Cashman LLP, a Manhattan-based law firm. “You are actually harming your child. And I would be concerned if there were such issues between the parents that there was always going to be a concern about whether there could be good joint decision making regarding the kids.”
Even if it isn’t a revolving door of men or women running through your bedroom, it makes a difference. A steady relationship so early on might also color your divorce. “Say you are with someone on a fixed basis, you will be asked by a psychologist to bring that person in for an evaluation in child custody hearings,” says Daniela E. Schreier, 37, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of the Chicago School based in Illinois, who has a background in forensics and works within the court system with custody evaluations. “This person has to come in to be evaluated. And we just had a case where an ex-husband came back and contested because his ex-wife hadn’t told the truth about the fact she was dating one man, and he had stayed over the house, spent weekends together and the kids were in his constant company. We had to reevaluate.”
While it doesn’t do much good to lie to the courts about having a significant relationship, especially during separation, it might be even worse to keep it from your soon-to-be- ex, especially if that person has control issues. If the relationship was abusive at any level, sleeping with another person might be the trigger for more violence. “For the control-freak-soon-to-be-ex-husband, it can create heavy duty jealousy issues,” Martin says.
“Yes, be careful and mindful because you are still in that relationship especially if you live in what was the shared residence,” says Schreier, who also specializes in dealing with relationships between controlling spouses and their partners. “You have the house but it also is your ex’s house. And sometimes that is how he views it. Does he still have the keys? If you were married to a possessive and jealous man, you don’t want him to walk in on you with someone else. What if he hires a private detective? If he is a controlling person, this will inflame him and could possibly lead to rage and violence directed against you. Even if he is not controlling, why give him more ammunition?”
Lenore Skomal is author of seventeen books, an award-winning columnist, and she also teaches college journalism in Pennsylvania.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with Judy Poller's current job position.
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