The idea that the courts have jurisdiction over one's post-divorce love life is confounding for most people. It may even induce outrage, considering that a person's love life centers around autonomous concepts, like sexuality and emotional commitments. Regardless of the one's philosophical beliefs, the family courts do have the right to oversee cases where a parent's dating habits may affect the welfare of the children. This issue was first brought to the New Jersey family courts in 1976 with the case of DeVita v. DeVita. The trial judge ruled in favor of the mother, who objected to her husband having his girlfriend stay overnight on the nights that he had their children. Her objection was based on moral grounds, which the Appellate Division affirmed on the basis that a reasonable person would probably be morally outraged, as well.
While DeVita is considered a seminal case on this issue, it's important to note that it was a pre-judgment motion, meaning that the divorce had yet to finalized. It's understandable that the wounds were still fresh, especially for the children who were still struggling with the changes brought on by the divorce process. As for moral outrage, keep in mind that this case took place in the 1970s, when social mores were far more conservative than they are now. Even with these critical differences, DeVita still set the stage for post-judgement cases such as Kelly v. Kelly in 1986. In that case, the judge ruled that unlike DeVita, the parties had officially finalized their divorce. Thus, the father has the right to have overnight guests in his own home, even in the presence of the children.
Another interesting case was Giangeruso v. Giangeruso in 1997, in which the trial court ruled that a child cannot be given the right to decide whether a parent can have an overnight guest in his or her presence. This decision is in line with the general consensus that children must be given very few rights of self-determination for the sake of their safety and well-being. It is, however, the court's duty to advocate for a child's best interests, including whether a parent's love life is causing, or is likely to cause significant physical and/or emotional harm to the child.
This is still a very subjective issue for the courts, but there are a set of factors that judges may consider in order to make a fair determination. These factors include: 1) How long have the parents been divorced, or living separately?; 2) How long has the parent been dating the new partner?; 3) Does the child have existing emotional or psychological problems?; 4) Are there any indications that the new partner may pose a danger or threat to the child? Depending on your family's unique circumstances, there may be other factors that the judge will take into consideration. For more information on your post-divorce rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.