Thursday, January 1, 2009
Are "Sleep Overs" Allowed?
Fans of the just-ended series, Boston Legal, will remember the silly question that Alan and Denny frequently asked, "Sleep over?". On that show, it was often part of the end of the episode banter between the two lawyers. If you enjoyed the unusual humor of the show, you probably chuckled when the question came up.
In real life, the sleep over question comes up sometimes in post-divorce relationships where there are minor children still in the home. Sam Hasler, who writes an excellent blog called Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog, had a recent post about the sleep over issue in Indiana and how their new visitation schedule will deal with the issue.
The issue still arises in Texas when a parent begins a relationship with someone new and wants to have the new romantic partner spend the night when the children are present. Our standard visitation schedule doesn't address the problem. There is actually no absolute answer to the question in Texas. Most often, it comes down to what the local judge will permit and the judge will have a lot of latitude to decide. There are, of course, moral issues which are paramount and clear cut for some people. Others may not hold the same moral position and that's where the courts come in.
If you are not dealing with this as a moral issue, the bottom line becomes what's in the children's best interest. Most judges, in Tarrant County at least, discourage ("prohibit") sleep overs until the parent is married to the new person, although that can vary a little based on the children's ages and the length of the relationship with the new adult. Some judges and child specialists will recommend not even bringing around a new paramour until the parent has been dating that person for 6 months to a year. Some parents will be impatient with that, but it normally will be in the children's best interest to avoid bringing a variety of new prospective step-parents.
Sometimes the court will explicitly order no sleep overs. Even without such an order, parents should think twice about bringing strangers around their children and keep in mind how confusing and upsetting the experience may be for the children. If regular visitation is taking place, or if time is being split pretty equally (which is getting to be more common), there will be plenty of opportunities for the parent to pursue dating activities with one or more adults without the children present. When the parent has the children, it's probably going to be better to focus on the children instead of splitting one's attention between the children and a boy/girlfriend.
If you think about what's best for the children, instead of just what would be more fun for you, the answer is pretty easy. What do you think?