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Trouble With A “Significant Other”

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You went through a divorce because you thought by doing so, you would end years of fighting and bickering with your former spouse. Following the divorce, things seemed to be going fairly well, as much as can be expected after a bitter divorce, but for the sake of the children, both you and your ex spouse were reasonably getting along. Things went pretty well for several years after the divorce. Things started to quickly deteriorate when you discovered that your ex has a new person in their life, what lawyers sometimes refer to as a “significant other.” The ironic part, is your beef isn’t with your ex spouse, it is with their new boyfriend or girlfriend, as the case might be. This person interferes in all aspects of your children’s lives and is making life miserable for you. You have tried to discuss it with your ex spouse but they don’t seem to be willing to do anything about it. Rather, they actually stick up for this person and do everything that they say or tell them to do; You almost get the feeling like your ex spouse is “brainwashed” by this new “significant other.” Worse, you found out recently, not just that they are dating, but they have moved in with one another. Your post divorce “bliss” has now turned into “total hell.” What types of things is this new “significant other” doing that is so upsetting to you?

  1. They won’t let you communicate with your ex spouse anymore. They insist that all communication about the children go through them instead.
  2. They show up at every event involving your children, from teacher conferences, to sports activities, dance or piano recitals, to dental appointments, medical examinations of your children. Where ever your children are, they are there.
  3. Instead of your ex transporting your children, the new “significant other” is, from regular placement pick up and drop offs, to taking the children to school and picking them up when school is over.
  4. When it is your ex spouse’s placement and they have to work, it is the “significant other” who is at home taking care of your children, instead of your ex spouse.
  5. Your children tell you that when they are over at your ex spouse’s house, it is the new “significant other” who sets the rules in the house about doing their home work, watching T.V., being on the internet, what time they have to go to bed, and your ex spouse is not involved in the rule making at all.
  6. Your children tell you further that when they are over at your ex spouse’s house, it is the “significant other” who disciplines them, not your ex husband. If they get grounded, it is the new “significant other” laying out the discipline, not your ex spouse.
  7. If there is any dispute involving your children, it is the “significant other” who gets out of their car, comes to your front door and screams in your face what a lousy parent you are and how you are messing up the kid’s lives, while your ex spouse sits idly in the car with the engine running waiting.
  8. Your children tell you that when they are over for placement at your ex spouse’s house, the “significant other” constantly belittles you and calls you vulgar names.
  9. In some extreme cases of “significant other” interference, I have heard instances of the person having the children call them “mommy” or “mommy 2” or making them refer to the other parent by their first names, not by mommy or daddy. This is coupled by in extreme interference cases by a “significant other” of actual physical discipline of the children, instead of by your ex spouse.

What, if anything can you do about it? Do you have any legal remedy? When does the “significant other” over step their bounds. In cases like this, with an overbearing, over-reaching new “significant other,” your options are fairly limited. There are certainly some things that are stepping beyond normal bounds. If the new “significant other” is engaged in physical discipline of your children, that is certainly a “no-no,” and you can file a motion with the court to order your ex spouse not to allow their significant other in laying a hand on your children. If the significant other is referring themselves in any way as “mommy” or “you have two mommies, your real mommy and me,” by example, you can go to court and obtain a court order that your ex not allow the significant other to refer themselves as the parent. The children have only one mother and father, and that is you and your ex spouse. If the “significant other” acts as the conduit for all communication between you and your ex involving important matters involving your children, the court can order your ex spouse to communicate only with you and not to allow their “significant other” to communicate with you over matters pertaining to the minor children. However, for many of the other nuisance and irritating behavior of an over-reaching, over bearing and obnoxious new boyfriend or girlfriend, you may be without any legal remedy or recourse. The court cannot enter an order removing them from your ex spouses’ life, home or away from your children. The court can’t prevent them from showing up at your children’s events or activities. The court can’t control what comes out of the significant others’ mouth, except as to order your ex spouse to avoid making any disparaging remarks about you around the children. The court has no jurisdiction over the “significant other.” The court cannot make or order the “significant other” to do anything, which is why these issues are so irritating to you and so frustrating for us as lawyers to try to remedy the problem. The divorce court only has jurisdiction over you and your ex spouse. They can order both of you to stop doing things that may be harmful or emotionally damaging to your children, but they cannot order or make the interfering new girlfriend or boyfriend to do anything.

Even though a pain to do so, I would document every troubling incident of interference with the “significant other.” If enough incidents occur over a period of time, you may be able to build up a case against your ex spouse, to possibly consider a change of placement, in extreme cases of interference by a third party, particularly after court orders are entered against your ex spouse, but the problems continue and your ex doesn’t follow the court orders. A prime example would be if the “significant other” continues to physically discipline your children, after going to court and your ex being court ordered not to allow anyone but the parents to engage in discipline of the children.

Unfortunately and way too often, this is a repeat pattern that I see in my practice of divorced parents. It is a source for much stress and aggravation, as much or worse than what transpired during the divorce process. Of more concern, is how it affects the children which is always the most alarming part of these types of situations. I cannot think of any quick fix or cure for such intermeddling. The best advice is to keep a record of every infraction and in aggravated cases of overstepping the normal bounds, file a motion with the court. Just remember, that your motion is directed against your ex spouse, not the new “significant other.” The court has no jurisdiction directly to order the new girlfriend or boyfriend to do anything. They are not the ones you are dragging into court, it is your ex spouse.

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