Child Custody When You're Living With a New Partner

It's not uncommon for a parent to begin living with a new romantic partner before final custody orders are decided. Whether or not this affects custody decisions depends on the case.

Typically, living with a new girlfriend or new boyfriend does not cause a parent to lose custody by itself. However, courts consider how each parent's living situation affects the child and may not award custody to a parent if living with their partner puts the child at risk.

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The best interest of the child

State child custody laws and processes vary, but every family court in the U.S. makes custody decisions based on what's best for the child.

This best interest of the child standard means that judges and other court officials (such as magistrates) make legal and physical custody decisions that ensure the child's safety, health and emotional well-being.

As a court assesses each parent's ability to support their child's best interest, it considers each parent's living situation and the home life they provide — including who lives with the parent and whether they pose any risk to the child.

To determine the best interests of the child, judges can order a custody evaluation, in which a custody expert investigates the family's situation. This may include home visits. Judges may also appoint a guardian ad litem, who represents the child's interests in the case and typically also conducts an investigation.

Can living with a new partner affect custody?

Courts won't deny a parent custody or visitation solely because they live with a new partner. However, if the living situation is a risk to the child's physical safety or emotional well-being, the court may limit that parent's custody. It might order supervised visitation, require visits to take place in public or limit who can be around the child.

For example, if a parent's boyfriend or girlfriend has a criminal record or uses drugs or alcohol irresponsibly, a judge may decide that the parent's home is not safe for the child. This may also be the case if the new partner has a child of their own living in the home who poses a threat.

Even when there isn't a safety risk, a parent might want the court to intervene when their ex's new partner begins spending time with their child. It's common for parents to feel emotionally threatened by their child forming a relationship with another potential parenting figure — however, this is not legal justification for awarding custody or changing existing orders.

To mitigate conflict around the child spending time with each other's romantic partners, parents can include provisions for how these people will be introduced to and spend time with their child in their parenting plan.

In some cases, a parent living with a new partner can be considered a benefit to the child. If the home is safe, emotionally stable and comfortable for the child, the court may determine that it best supports the child's needs.

Can I leave my child with my new partner?

If your new partner is a competent caregiver and your child is comfortable with them, they can occasionally babysit, unless your parenting plan or court order says otherwise.

Avoid regularly leaving your child with your partner or relying on them to parent in your place. Routinely leaving your child with someone else can be considered evidence that you disregard your time with your child. A new partner acting as a parent can interfere with the co-parenting relationship.

To see exactly how much time your child spends with each caregiver, use a parenting time calculator like the one from Custody X Change. It lets you include parents and third parties.

Does adultery affect custody?

It's a common misconception that a parent's infidelity means they will lose custody. In fact, judges only consider parents' personal relationships if they directly affect the child or a parent's ability to care for the child.

Generally, if the parent who has an affair is a competent parent and hasn't exposed the child to harm, family court won't deny them custody because of adultery. If the parent has put the child at risk, though, or otherwise parented irresponsibly as a result of the affair, the court may limit their custody.

In states with fault-based divorce, adultery can be used against a spouse in divorce proceedings. The adulterous spouse can be found at-fault (guilty) for causing the end of the marriage, which affects spousal support and the division of assets and debts.

Can living with a new partner affect child support?

When it comes to child support, either parent (the paying or receiving one) can live with a new partner without affecting support payments. Child support calculations consider only parents' incomes, not the income of either parent's partner (even if the partner helps financially support the child). In unique circumstances, you can ask your judge to consider making an exception.

In divorce cases, living with a partner can affect spousal support (alimony), which in turn affects parents' incomes. Many states include spousal support paid and received when determining parents' incomes for the child support calculation, so in these cases, living with a new partner may indirectly affect child support.

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