Recoupling during the holidays can be harder for your child than divorce.
- While parents may have had plenty of time to process the end of the marriage, this might be new information for a child.
- For children, the introduction of a new “step-person” may require they adjust to new siblings, home, routines, and parenting styles.
- In an ongoing divorce, introducing a new significant other to one’s family could be damaging to custody litigations.
The crisp air, the lights and wreaths on display, and the music on the radio are all indicators that we have settled into the holiday season. It’s a time to gather with loved ones. But for families working through divorce, or couples who have recently completed their divorce, it can be difficult to determine who should gather, and when. This can be especially difficult if you are recently divorced with children and dating someone new.
If you are hoping to invite a new significant other to your family holiday gathering to introduce them to your children, as a matrimonial and family attorney with years of experience, I would caution you to consider that choice very carefully.
While it might seem like the time to put all of your loved ones in the same place, introducing a new significant other into your family unit—or “recoupling”—can be more difficult for children than divorce in some cases.
How can that be possible? Consider that with recoupling, there may also be new “siblings,” a new home, new routines, and of course, a new step-person who is going to have his or her own parenting styles and views.
This issue of dating frequently comes up in my practice, particularly as it relates to custody issues and custodial agreements. I have also encountered this issue in my role as an Attorney for Children when speaking to my clients who are children. As a matrimonial attorney, I believe there are many reasons to be extremely thoughtful about dating after divorce—specifically as it relates to your children, and I work with many therapists who agree. Let’s explore a few reasons you might want to save this time of year to focus on your children.
Consider your children’s experience
Introducing your new significant other to your children during this time of year can put undue pressure and cause anxiety in your children during a break from school and routine that they are meant to enjoy.
While you might be “ready” and have had plenty of time—sometimes many years—to process the end of the marriage and impending divorce, this might be relatively new information for your children. They might need more time to process the complexities of the divorce before being thrown into another unfamiliar situation.
For them, the presence of a stranger at their special holiday gatherings may feel like an unwelcome intrusion.
Consider the court’s opinion
While you may believe that it is important to integrate a new person into your children’s lives in the midst of a divorce, the court may feel differently. If your divorce is still ongoing, introducing a new significant other to your family could be potentially damaging to any ongoing custody litigations. The court may determine that introducing a new significant other shows an inability to place your children’s interests before your own.
Further, if you are busy dating, you aren’t with your children. This may impact how much access you have to your children in the future. If you are unavailable due to dating (as opposed to working), the court may find that access is not your greatest priority.
Finally, if you are in the process of developing a custody agreement, you may want to agree with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on a waiting period before introducing a significant other into the children’s lives. This can be a negotiated provision in your custody agreement so that you and your ex-spouse are on the same page.
Consider choosing a different time
Though you might find your new significant other a source of great comfort at this potentially difficult time of year, it’s important to realize that your children might not feel the same way quite yet.
Rather than introduce a new circumstance for them to process that could easily lead to anxiety and jealousy during a time of togetherness and celebration, consider choosing a different time to engage in those conversations with your children. Maybe you plan a low-pressure outing that is unrelated to holiday traditions your children have become accustomed to.
It will take time to develop bonds, and at some point, this may include special holiday gatherings—but as difficult as it may be, it’s important to consider your children’s emotional experience before your own.
When you navigate this season well, there’s every reason to hope that the next holiday period could be filled with new traditions and inclusive of your new significant other and your children in a happy and healthy way.
These opinions should not substitute as a diagnosis or as legal or psychological advice, as each case is unique. If you are facing a similar situation, contact a family law attorney or mental health professional in your area.
Read the original article published in Psychology Today here.