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What's legal isn't necessarily what's right

| Monday, Feb. 21, 2011

Question: I recently separated from my wife of 20 years. I moved into my girlfriend's home for financial and emotional reasons. My wife of 20 years feels our three children, ages 12, 14 and 16 are not ready to visit, sleepover or even meet the new girlfriend and her two children. I have been told by her that it should be up to one year before this can happen. Is it typical for a time frame to be placed• Can the court system put restrictions on my custody because of where I live?

Answer: You've asked a few questions here, so we are going to take them one by one. First, you used the word, "recent." Not sure how long that is, but you've told us that it is far less than a year. It's important to remember that your time frame is not your children's. Just "recently" you were sleeping in their mother's bed, eating at their table, and probably watching TV together. Your children are most likely still reeling from the shock that you and their mother no longer are together.

That you have moved on so quickly hints of an affair. Are they coping with a hurt mother who also is reeling from the shock• For, their emotional well-being, take a look at what you are proposing. Meeting your girlfriend at a neutral place, like a pizza parlor or a park, is one thing, sleeping at the home you have set up after "recently" breaking up with their mother, is another.

In regards to the time frame of one year mentioned by your ex -- since we know very little about your background, it's difficult to say if that is a sufficient amount of time. From working with couples in your position, we find that many take up to two or three years to successfully move on. More important, the first relationship they get into after the breakup often is not long-term. They might be likened to a paper fire -- the relationship burns bright and hot at the beginning, but turns to ashes very quickly. We suggest you slow down until you can be more certain where your life is going. To drag your kids along as you get adjusted to this new life is really not fair.

Finally, courts make their decisions in the best interest of the child. If you were living in a crack house -- if the kids were unsafe -- then, of course, restrictions are made. But, as emotionally unsettling as all this might be for your children, they are not being physically harmed if they stay with you and your girlfriend, so it is doubtful an order would be made to prevent them from sleeping at your house. Just remember, once something goes to court the final decision always lies with the judge. But even if a judge signs off on it, remember to put the kids first, and ask yourself whether it's really the right thing to do.

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