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Cohabitation & Dating—Safety Risks and Legal Considerations in Child Custody

When parents are raising a child apart from one another, it can be difficult to determine the best approach to take when addressing matters of their own dating and cohabitation. It is important that parents take measures to ensure the physical safety as well as the mental and emotional health of their child(ren), while also preserving their own legal and parental rights. Presented in two parts, the Gainesville Child Custody Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC discuss potential safety risks and legal issues related to parents dating or cohabitating, followed by some precautions that parents can take to protect their own interests, as well as those of their children.

Child Safety Risks in Dating & Cohabitation

Anytime a parent entrusts the care of their child to another, they have a duty to safeguard the child from harm—to the fullest extent possible—in regard to matters within their control. This duty of protection also extends to circumstances where a parent allows the child to be exposed to other persons, even when they have not entrusted the full responsibility and/or care of that child to another.

Consequently, it is important for parents to be aware of potential safety risks, both at the onset of a new relationship, and more importantly when the decision is made to cohabitate. Parents should ask themselves if there are warning signs, risk factors, or any other concerns whatsoever that my child may be subject or exposed to:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Mental, Emotional, Psychological Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Neglect or Harm
  • Drugs, Alcohol, Substance Abuse
  • Other persons that may cause harm to child
  • Anything else that may negatively impact child’s mental health, well-being, or general safety.

Legal Issues in Dating & Cohabitation

There are a number of legal considerations that parents should be aware of anytime a child is exposed to other persons as a result of a parent’s dating, residential, or cohabitation choices. In fact, because dating and cohabitation can affect the custodial rights of either parent, regardless of which parent is involved in a relationship with a non-parent, it is helpful for parents to consider potential legal issues from each of their respective positions.

From the perspective of the parent that is cohabitating with and/or dating another, it is important to understand the impact that relationship choice can have on their own rights and interests. Parents must remember that in terms of child custody, parental rights, and/or dependency matters, neglecting (or causing detriment) to a child also includes exposing a child, or negligently failing to protect a child from harm caused by another. As such, a parent’s right could be potentially compromised if a child were to be abused, neglected, or harmed in some manner, whether such harm has been inflicted by a significant other that a parent was/is dating, or as a result of exposure to others through such relationship.

On the other hand, in some situations a parent that is sharing custody, may have concerns over the other parent’s dating or cohabitation decisions. For example, where the other parent decides to cohabitate with a partner that has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, there may be a need to seek modification of custody if exposure to that person may be detrimental to the child’s well-being. Generally speaking, detriment caused by the other parent’s relationship or cohabitation choices is sufficient to establish a substantial, material, and/or unanticipated change in circumstance, for purposes of meeting the statutory requirements for custody modifications.

To continue reading more on this topic, see, ‘Cohabitation & Dating: Preventative & Protective Measures.’

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