Blended families, nuclear families, step families, grandparent families and single parent families. Today’s social structures would largely be unrecognizable to past generations. When your ex-wife sets out on her own (probably with considerable financial support from you), she starts a new variation on your original family structure. If that new variation includes a new man, you may worry about the second husband’s effect on your kids. Good for you. You should worry.
Virginia Custody Laws
During your property settlement agreement negotiations, you and your ex-wife determined major issues affecting the lives of your children:
- Physical custody
- Legal custody
- Child support
- Parenting time (also called visitation schedules)
We hope you took none of these issues lightly. Every choice you and she made has an impact on the innocent little lives you are duty-bound to protect.
Virginia’s Code lays out strict legal bounds for all the facets of children’s lives post-divorce. You two could share physical custody, she could have sole custody and you have visitation rights, or you could have joint physical custody.
For legal custody, you also have choices. Legal custody involves the decisions you make regarding your child’s life:
- Educational programming
- Religious upbringing
- Medical decisions
- Extracurricular activities
- Circles of friends
If you and your wife disagree, for example, on guns in the house, whoever has sole legal custody of your children wins the argument.
If you share legal custody, you two have to work together on every decision, from getting wisdom teeth extracted to visiting colleges to paying for dance lessons.
The two aspects of custody — physical and legal — can be as intertwined or independent as you two decide. You definitely want to maintain contact with your children, so you are unlikely to give her sole legal custody and sole physical custody with no plans for visitation. Yet you could have sole legal custody and she has physical custody, or you could both have joint legal and physical custody.
He’s Legally Not Included
Throughout any discussion of custody, one name will never come up: the new guy’s name. He is not in any way part of the legal structure of your post-divorce family. He has no legal right to direct your children, arrange activities for them, sign on their behalf, make decisions for them, or tell them what to wear.
He is a non-entity, legally, unless he chooses to adopt your children. That is unlikely, since you would be required to sign away your parental rights. He has no legal claims to anything involving your children. Your wife does, and she can consult with him to solicit an opinion, but any decision regarding the children is hers to make, not his.
Oh, He Means Well
Too many ex-wives try to excuse their new husbands’ behaviors by saying the stepparent means well. You do not know that he does; you can only see the things he says and does that affect your kids.
You all want a pleasant and cordial life after divorce. You also want your children to feel safe and secure in both your ex-wife’s home and your home. Yet you need not give up your rights to make decisions on behalf of your children. You need not stay silent just because the new husband “means well.”
Does He Have Permission?
A common problem that crops up with this is that the new man in her life puts his name down on school forms, doctor’s records, or club activity registrations. He should not. He is not an emergency contact for your kids — you are. He may be doing it out of innocent concern for your children, but he is not legally able to pick them up from school, drive them to soccer, or buy them backpacks without express (ideally, written) permission from their actual parents (your ex-wife and you).
Virginia school and daycare authorities, for example, can face serious consequences if they turn a child over to someone not legally responsible for the child.
Your ex-wife’s new husband shows up at the high school parking lot after an away football game, ready to take Defense Doug off the team bus and home. If he has no note from Defense Doug’s mother (your ex-wife), he has no legal right to have the kid in his car.
Yes, Push the Issue
Your primary role, after a divorce, is still the role you had in raising a family: protect your children at all costs. What do you care if new husband thinks you are an obnoxious jerk, so long as he stays out of the decision-making for your children?
If necessary, you can get a little help from your family law attorney to send a not-so-friendly reminder to your ex and her hubby, spelling out his complete lack of authority or legal oversight for your kids.
Call The Virginia Family Law Attorneys For Men
Confused by what you can and cannot do after divorce? Worried about your children in another man’s household? Contact The Firm For Men today at 757-383-9184, or contact our office online. You can speak with a Virginia family law attorney, schedule an appointment to stop by our offices, and get the help you need to protect your children.