You know your ex very well, good and bad, but their new partner is probably a stranger to you.
There is no greater trust than allowing someone to take care of your children so how do you extend that trust to your ex’s new partner?
And what is the legal position if you don’t want your kids to be around them?
It is to be expected that parents will re-partner and their new partner will become someone significant to the care, welfare and development to the child.
It will of course depend upon the length and nature of the relationship between your ex and their new partner as to how significant the new partner is in the life of your child. Your ex’s new partner might not want much to do with your kids, they might just want to hang out with your kids from time to time or they might take on a parental role. It is to be expected this will change over time, especially if your ex and their new partner start living together, decide to get married or have children themselves.
It can be difficult for kids to make the transition from one household to another where there are different rules and expectations in each, and this can be even more difficult to navigate when a third or fourth person also takes on a parental role. It can be jarring if your parenting style is different from your ex-partner or their new partner and confusing for children.
The relevant law reflects the expectation that parents focus on the best interests of the child and promote the maintenance of a meaningful relationship between the child and the other parent. When your co-parent re-partners, this also means recognising and promoting the relationship of the child to their new partner and their new partner’s extended family.
The legal position is different if there are concerns that your child may be at risk of harm in the presence or care of your ex’s new partner. The relevant law says that it is in the best interests of a child to be protected from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence. There are circumstances in which the Family Court will prohibit family members, including step-parents, from having contact with a child if there is evidence of such a risk, or put other protective measures in place. If you regard that your child is at risk of harm, you should seek legal advice immediately.
You might otherwise have reservations about your client’s new partner but your children should be free to develop their own relationship with them without feeling conflicted or torn. You should avoid:
- Criticising or denigrating your ex’s new partner in the presence of the child
- Undermining or contradicting expectations or rules in the other household
- Making unnecessary distinctions between step and biological family members – Eg “He is only your step-brother, not your brother”
- Respond positively (or at least in a neutral way) when you child mentions your ex’s new partner
- Try to make a point of speaking and interacting with your ex’s new partner at handover or when your paths cross at your children’s school or extra-curricular activities
- Consider extending invitations to your children’s special events, such as birthday parties, to your ex’s new partner
If there are ongoing issues arising from your child’s relationship with your ex’s partner, you should consider participating in family mediation or family counselling with them to try to resolve the issues.
If you require family law advice about this or any other parenting or financial issue, please contact Lynn & Brown and arrange a meeting with one of our experienced family lawyers.
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About the authors:
Katherine Bromfield is a Perth Lawyer and a Senior Associate at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Katherine is an experienced lawyer in the areas of Family Law and Criminal Law. Jacqui is a Perth lawyer and director, and has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in family law, mediation and estate planning. Jacqui is also a Nationally Accredited Mediator and a Notary Public.