The right to control an ex's dating habits?
June 16, 2010 3:50 PM   Subscribe

What legal, moral or ethical rights does ex-spouse A have when it comes to controlling ex-spouse B's dating habits, under the guise of protecting their children?

"A" and "B" were a married couple with a child. "A" is notoriously possessive and manipulative, which is one of many reasons why "A" and "B" are now divorced. "B" is trying to move on with her life and has joined the dating scene again, but "A" becomes incredibly hostile, combative and harassing if/when he finds out that another man may have been within 15 meters of his child at any point.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that B's potential dating partners are not serial killers, child molesters or druggies. These potential dating partners' only crime is the fact that they exist. Let's also assume that "B's" dating life is steady, long-term-oriented and not a revolving door of random men that come into contact with their child.

"A" claims that it is his right as a father to know who is around his child, and that it is his right as a father to demand that his child not be exposed to any of "B's" boyfriends. He is also very nosy about who her supposed boyfriends are, so he can take issue with that as well.

I already know their relationship has been physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. "A" is an absolutely terrible and dangerous person and this really strikes me as being nothing more than a ploy to continue manipulating "B," keeping her from ever progressing with her life by using their child as a pawn.

But looking past his despicable character, are there really any merits to his claims? Does any ex-spouse have the right to make such demands?

posted by Ziggy Zaga to Human Relations (17 answers total)
"B" needs to talk to her lawyer.
posted by grouse at 3:59 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

My gut instinct says no, not without a history. He probably has the right to request things like "No having your boyfriends stay over when my kids are there until I've met them," and he probably has a right to know the guy's full name, but his ex is her own person and has her own right to date. dude needs to let go.
posted by KathrynT at 4:01 PM on June 16, 2010

"B" needs to talk to her lawyer. Stat.
posted by ZaneJ. at 4:03 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes. Basically there are two situations

1. Ex-spouses who are friends and try to work things out amicably in which case if one spouse had a problem they might being it up with the other and try to work out something amicably. This is fine and legitimate if it works.
2. Your friend's situation. One spouse threatening the other with crazy talk. They have, I am presuming, a legal definition of their child support arrangement that they both need to abide by. To the best of my knowledge these do not in any way include getting to know anything about who the other is dating.

I am sorry but she should be talking to a lawyer. My experience with these situations in the past is that some exes use the child as a control point to basically take over for the lack of control they no longer have in the relationship. If they can not agree on terms, they need to have a legal authority help them agree to terms, no one should be having to guess at what is "reasonable" at this point.
posted by jessamyn at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2010

He probably has the right to request things like "No having your boyfriends stay over when my kids are there until I've met them," and he probably has a right to know the guy's full name, but his ex is her own person and has her own right to date. dude needs to let go.

Doubt it. I would say at this point he only had whatever rights the custody agreement gives him.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2010

and that it is his right as a father to demand that his child not be exposed to any of "B's" boyfriends. He is also very nosy about who her supposed boyfriends are, so he can take issue with that as well.

Total bullshit. To decree that his divorced wife can't expose any man she's dating to HER OWN SON is absolutely out of line. She should absolutely refuse to even discuss the issue with him. Because the papers are signed and they're divorce and IT'S NONE OF HIS BUSINESS.

She needs to start documenting each and every time he gets like this so that when it comes time to file the restraining order she's got a paper trail. Because this reads to me like a pride-wounded alpha male not going to let his woman humiliate him and be independant of him. Not with HIS CHILD. Notice the phrasing. Not their child, but HIS.

If he's already been abusive, assume he's going to again. She's going to get serious with some guy and want to have him over for dinner, and her ex is going to explode. What if she wants to get remarried? Oh, I bet "A" would lose his shit over some other man raising his kid.

As the custodial parent, she also has rights about who THE CHILD SHE GAVE BIRTH TO is exposed to and who is a part of their life. This is why the courts awarded her custody (as it sounds like from your question). Her ex sounds like a classic abusive manipulator.

Document everything.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

IANBL, but from my own divorce, I can tell you that if isn't in the divorce decree, then "A" has no rights at all (although "B" should still talk to her lawyer, this stuff may vary from state and she may at least be able to shut him down.) My own ex tried to put in something I called the "slut" clause, which said I could not have overnight guests of the opposite sex. Since he lived in New York at the time and rarely saw them and since I wasn't planning to have a revolving door of men (nor, sadly, the opportunity), I ixnayed that one pretty quickly. She should check to see what her agreement says - that's all he can hold her to. I think. She should talk to her lawyer.
posted by katyjack at 4:08 PM on June 16, 2010

IANAL, yadda yadda yadda, but no there's no legal requirement to inform ex-spouses about current dating partners.

Just in case (and since you're already giving advice to "B"), please tell her that if she ever decides to make her dating life less than "steady, long-term oriented", it would be best not to allow contact between any short-term partner and the children at all. Not for any moral or child-rearing reason, but if "A" every decides to get legal about custody or decides to call child protective services, I can't tell you how many time's I see negative references to the number of men to which a child has been exposed in CPS investigative documents.

Now that I think about it, maybe "B" needs to get a restraining order?
posted by Willie0248 at 4:21 PM on June 16, 2010

Excellent advice so far. Lawyers and documentation are important from a defensive standpoint in case things get ugly legally. So the child (how old is the child?) call him or her "C" is the factor that binds them together in terms of rights and responsibilities. I mean, aside from what may be in the divorce decree.

Separate from the legal issue, what moral rights exist here? B ought to consider what rights she has with regards to A's dating life. What rights are there if A is:

1 dating someone who is not around the C
2 dating someone who will be around C occasionally
3 dating someone who will be around C overnights
4 dating someone who will be living under the same roof
5 planning to marry that someone

To my mind, a former spouse may have rights to have some background for 3, 4, and 5, but not really for 1 and 2. But reasonable may disagree about where the boundaries are. My hope is that A can get it through his skull that the divorce means he no longer has the same kinds of rights and responsibilities he used to.

Other thoughts: it sucks, but it's possible A may be a "poisoning" influence over C -- think "Mommy is bad if she has other men around" -- I fear this issue of A being a jerk will require her to think defensively, and communicate defensively, both to A and to C. One thing some spouses fear is that someone will be a dating figure but the child will assume that that person is a "new daddy or mommy" -- good communication about what is and isn't so with regards to that is critical. What does it mean that mommy is dating? Taking care of the needs of the kid really comes first, since minor children so often get put through the wringer when this is not thought about. Those are my 2 cents.
posted by artlung at 4:43 PM on June 16, 2010

Yes, A is being a jerk. And probably for the wrong reasons.

However, there is a legitimate parental right to know what the child is being exposed to in the home. Even if A is using it to be nosy and controlling, the right exists. That has nothing to do with who B dates. Just who B brings into the child's life.

This is usually spelled out in the custody agreement. It might suck to not be able to have sleepover dating guests just because some judge said so, but if it is in there, that's the price of divorce and shared custody.
posted by gjc at 5:08 PM on June 16, 2010

He may not have any legal right to set arbitrary dating rules, but if he's willing to use their child as a pawn she may actually give in just to protect their child. I have a friend whose ex dragged her back into court to challenge their custody agreement after he found out that her boyfriend of almost six months had met their son. Custody was not amended, but I think he took perverse pleasure in forcing her to spend money on a lawyer and take time off from a new job.

Your friend should tell her ex as little as possible about her personal life, document any harassment, and speak to her lawyer to ensure that she understands her rights under the custody agreement. If he becomes abusive, then she should look into a restraining order. I think it's critical for her to project the image that she's aware of her rights and willing to speak with lawyers or the police in order to exercise those rights. If she fails to stand up to him, she'll be living under his rules until their child is to old to be used against her. Therapy might also be useful for her as she comes out of this abusive relationship.

It's so much easier to have input into these things when the parents are actually on the same team. Situations like this one have nothing to do with protecting the child, and everything to do with protecting a fragile ego.
posted by contrariwise at 5:10 PM on June 16, 2010

These new guys aren't abusive, are they? I'm sorry for going outside the scope of your question, but a friend was exposed to numerous abusive "mom's boyfriends," and if the mother has dated abusive people before, she might be on the lookout for this.
posted by salvia at 5:25 PM on June 16, 2010

She should get a lawyer, every state/country is different, every custody agreement is different. Might also look into speaking with an advocacy group of some sort, since there was preexisting abuse.

In one county I'm familiar with (I know a lawyer there) it's fairly routine for the parties to agree to no overnight visitors while the child is present, unless said visitors are now married to the partner who has custody at the moment. And if it's a contested divorce with children then nearly everything needs the sign-off of a judge, who can add terms if s/he feels like it. Overnight guests are at times a huge sticking point (generic boyfriends/girlfriends not so much.)

Or, in other words, get a lawyer, get a lawyer, get a lawyer.

And talk to the child; I was the child in a divorce and I unintentionally started stuff all the time, not knowing how mad one parent would get when hearing about what the other one did/said. And the things they said when they were mad were not healthy for me to hear. And my parents were pretty reasonable about nearly everything nearly all the time.
posted by SMPA at 5:34 PM on June 16, 2010

You really need to give more details about the custody agreement that the two spouses have. I think that'd be the most important part (along with whatever local laws there are).

Also, you say he has a history of physical abuse... Have the authorities been involved? If she has full custody, he has NO RIGHT (AFAIK, but IANAL/IANA social worker) to dictate what she does with them at all unless he tries to appeal the custody agreement.

I would also suggest getting a lawyer and the law involved. She knows well enough that he is an abusive man. I don't understand how an abusive person would have any control over these kids. Change that ASAP. If he doesn't, contact the police and get a restraining order.

Good luck!
posted by Lizsterr at 6:18 PM on June 16, 2010

Nthing that the ex-spouse doesn't have a right to demand this.

HOWEVER, it's reasonable to not want your children to be exposed to people their parents are just dating. My parents divorced when I was young, and I went through several years of each of them dating before they each remarried. It was stressful and jarring to get to know new adults and start to like them and get used to them being around and then have all that be disrupted when they broke up. When you bring your boyfriends/girlfriends around your kids, then your kids suffer during the breakup too. Why needlessly subject your children to such instability?

So, I think in general it's best for divorced parents and other single parents to adopt a policy of "no introducing kids to romantic partners unless/until things get serious" ("serious" meaning getting engaged or about to move in together). But that policy has to apply to BOTH parents. I wouldn't put anything in writing, but the parents could come to an agreement about this. If nothing else, raising this possibility for discussion will help determine whether A is really concerned about the effect on the kids (because he would have to agree to not bring any new girlfriends around either) or whether A is just trying to control B's dating life.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:00 PM on June 16, 2010

B should talk to her lawyer.

My son's mother used to pull this crap. Hell, one time she called the police because I sent my son to my parents house for a weekend visit. It never did anything except annoy me.

Assuming that there is no finding of neglect or abuse of the minor children, (and no other court order or TRO to the contrary) the parents have a (constitutional) right to freely associate. Which means that by and large, it is not possible for one parent to dictate who the other parent can or cannot have around.

Again, statutes and situations will vary, so good legal advice is necessary - but I'd be surprised if A had a leg to stand on at all.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:03 PM on June 16, 2010

Response by poster: re: lawyer/custody agreement. I don't know the full details of their arrangement but get the impression "no overnight guests" was NOT a stipulation in that agreement, else "A" would have taken the fight to court instead of harassing the hell out of "B" via phone and text. I'll def. point her in the direction of her lawyer though.

re: abuse and paper trail. She refused to take legal action against him while he was being physically abusive and I've been encouraging her to at least take out a no-contact/restraining order against him to protect herself from his harassment now but she won't do that either for the usual stereotypical reasons. As it stands, his record is completely clean and I've warned her this will be a liability to her one day.

Thanks for all of the responses; the general consensus seems to be that his rights are granted and limited only by the custody arrangement, so hopefully with this new knowledge she'll finally be able to put him behind her.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:08 AM on June 17, 2010

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