When parents separate or divorce, they are free to pursue other romantic relationships with different partners while still retaining their parental rights to their children. These other relationships may develop into a serious committed relationship that can lead to cohabitation or marriage. However, parents should be aware that custody and parenting time orders can be revisited if there is proper cause or change of circumstances to do so. These modifications can be triggered by a parent living with a new romantic partner.
In Muller v Muller, unpublished per curiam decision of the Court of Appeals decided October 27, 2005 (Docket No. 259271), the appellate court was confronted with the following facts:
- “Plaintiff and defendant share joint legal custody of their two minor children, while plaintiff has sole physical custody. Defendant’s parenting time schedule includes alternating weekends and holidays, with expanded parenting time during summers. After learning that defendant permitted his girlfriend to stay in his home during overnight visitation, plaintiff sought to modify defendant’s parenting time. The trial court entered an order prohibiting both parties from having “an unrelated member of the opposite sex overnight while having parenting time with the minor children.” Defendant challenges this order because he and his girlfriend desire to cohabitate but do not wish to marry.” Slip op. at 1.
With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Muller challenged the court’s order that prohibited his girlfriend from being present overnight. He alleges that his requesr does not go against the best interests of the child, that the court was wrongfully thrusting the plaintiff’s morals upon him in violation of his First Amendment rights, and that he was wrongfully denied his right to an evidentiary hearing. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed and pointed out several aspects of the law that permit the trial judge to restrict the presence of romantic partners:
- “A parenting time order may contain any reasonable terms or conditions that facilitate the orderly and meaningful exercise of parenting time by a parent, including 1 or more of the following: (c) Restrictions on the presence of third persons during parenting time.” MCL 722.27a(9). The trial judge was in his right to restrict the presence of third parties around the minor child during parenting time according to statute.
- Although never enforced today by prosecutors, cohabitation with romantic partners without marriage is illegal In Michigan. “Any man or woman, not being married to each other, who lewdly and lasciviously associates and cohabits together, and any man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or a fine of not more than $1,000.00.” MCL 750.335. This statute was never repealed, indicating that it was still the intent of the Legislature and public policy to keep this prohibition in force.
- It is the “fundamental constitutional right of parents to raise their children and make decisions regarding visitation.” Troxel v Granville, 530 US 57, 65; 120 SCt 2055; 147 LED2d 49 (2000). However, neither parent has asserted a specific religious belief system that would trigger any First Amendment freedoms that are at stake.
Family court judges have the authority to limit the presence of romantic partners (or any other person for that matter) around the minor children during parenting time. Even more, the addition of a cohabiting partner or new spouse to the household (even if not prohibited by court order) can be a basis for the other parent to file a motion to modify custody or parenting time. What if the new romantic partner has a criminal record? What if the new romantic partner is a registered sex offender? Even worse, what if this new romantic partner brings his or her own baggage to the relationship of contentious child custody issues that adversely affects the entire family unit? The unsuitability of the parent’s new partner can be a basis for the court to modify custody and parenting time.
Parents should always be careful when introducing new people into their children’s lives. Rushing children to meet and form a bond with a new partner who eventually leaves the parent’s life is disruptive and harmful to the child. In addition, a third-party live-in person who is considered potentially dangerous by the judge can lead to a loss of custody or parenting time due to that parent’s poor judgment. Caution should be exercised to the upmost. If the presence of a new romantic partner leads to litigation that can threaten your parental rights, then you need a skilled family law lawyer in your corner.
If you or a loved one have questions about family law or need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.