Court voids romantic restrictions in divorce agreement

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Many divorcing parents are concerned about new romantic interests in the lives of their soon-to-be-ex-spouses and the potential introduction of these strangers to their children. Some may even want to incorporate language into their divorce agreements restricting the ability of an ex-spouse to introduce a new boyfriend or girlfriend to their children.

A recent decision out of Virginia, however, suggests that such provisions may not be enforceable.

In that case, Melanie Knoepfler-Powell and Michael Powell incorporated a provision into their property settlement agreement requiring them both to exercise “great care prior to introducing” new “boyfriends or girlfriends with whom they may have a romantic relationship” to their child.

The clause also barred them from having overnight guests of the opposite sex when the child was present in the home.

In the context of a dispute over Michael’s request for a child support modification, Melanie expressed a willingness to void the provisions in question when it came to either of their relationships, Michael had recently married a woman he was living with and agreed to eliminate the restriction on overnight guests, but not the restriction on introducing the child to romantic partners.

A Virginia trial judge, however, ruled that the provisions were not enforceable.

Specifically, the judge pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the past that the fundamental right to privacy guarantees the freedom to associate in various types of intimate relationships.

While the potential relationships here might not rise to that level, the judge said courts need to be careful about restraining the associations of a parent who has showed no signs of acting in a way that might harm the child.

Additionally, the judge said the provision itself was unreasonably vague, since it wasn’t clear what it actually means to exercise “great care” before introducing romantic partners to the child.

This decision does not mean that any provision in a divorce agreement that restricts a partner’s romantic activity will be voided. After all, this is just one case from one state involving very specific facts. But if you are considering imposing restrictions on your spouse’s relationships following a divorce, it is important to discuss whether a court would actually honor such a provision.

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