Should Divorced Parents Be Allowed Adult Sleepovers?

Although I’m divorced myself (now remarried for five years), and a parent, it’s been a number of years since my then-husband and I negotiated what was to be and still is our post-divorce custody agreement.

Because it had been a while since I’d thought about it, I had completely forgotten that in Tennessee – where we live – it has been well-accepted practice for family court judges to issue a blanket (ha! I made a pun!) prohibition barring divorced parents from having romantic partners spend the night in their homes when the kids are there.

I’d forgotten, that is, until I noticed a news story last week explaining that, “A recent series of Tennessee Court of Appeals decisions makes it clear that judges can no longer automatically forbid parents from having their romantic partners spend the night, lawyers say. Instead, they say, there has to be proof that the overnight stays harm a child.”

The day after I saw this story, I was listening to our local talk radio morning drive show, and the host was weighing in on this new direction in our state’s family courts, and was also inviting his listeners to call in with their opinions on whether divorced parents should ever have their “paramours” over for some adult-style jammie time. Given that I live in a super-conservative part of the country, I never know when I am listening to local talk radio call-in shows whether I am going to hear more social conservatives or libertarian-style conservatives airing their views on any particular day (I know it will be one or the other), but I figured this issue in particular would be interesting to hear debated on-air because social conservatives and libertarians are unlikely to agree on it.

For social conservatives, the idea that a parent would ever consider having a romantic partner spend the night in a home where children are present is entirely unacceptable. After all, a post-divorce grown-up sleepover means sex might be taking place – sex outside of marriage. But for libertarians,  the issue is one where the state shouldn’t be issuing blanket edicts to parents on how to run their own homes. For libertarians, this would be a personal liberty issue rather than a parenting issue.

During this particular local talk radio gabfest last week, the social conservatives overwhelmingly won the day. Led by the show host himself, who came down pretty strongly against the idea of overnight guests in a home with kids, caller after caller dialed in to say that he or she would never expose kids to the immoral and damaging impact of an unmarried sleepover guest.  There were a few dissenters, but I’d say 90% of the callers were opposed to changing Tennessee’s family court tradition of banning paramour sleepovers for all divorced parents, no matter what.

A local divorce lawyer called in and explained that even with the new line of court rulings doing away with blanket bans on sleepovers, any parent involved in a divorce could still request that such a ban be included in his or her own specific custody agreement, but the parent would have convince the judge of how the children would actually be harmed by sleepovers in his/her ex’s home before a judge would include it in the final parenting plan.

As for me, I admit that I’m kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, I do struggle with a deep-seated, somewhat kneejerk distaste for the idea of kids waking up to mom or dad’s latest hook-up reading the sportspages in the breakfast nook.  Additionally, I don’t think that a parent who has gone through the hell of seeing his or her marriage end in whole or in part due to infidelity should have to endure the secondary pain of begging a judge to keep the third party in the marital break-up from spending the night in a home where the children are present.

But on the other hand, a blanket ban is clearly discriminatory toward gay parents, who have no ability to marry their romantic partners in Tennessee, and thus, under a blanket ban they wouldbe de facto barred from ever again having a meaningful family relationship with another adult until the children were grown and gone. Plus, I’m kind of with the libertarians on this one in that I don’t want the courts telling me how to raise my kids and run my household unless and until I clearly demonstrate that my behavior is causing real harm to my offspring.

But how about you? Where do you stand on this issue? Are you divorced? Does your parenting agreement address adult sleepovers at your ex’s house when the kids are present? If not, do you wish it would? Have you ever seen a blanket ban unfairly applied to loving, unmarried couples parenting together after one of them has gone through a divorce from the kids’ other parent? Tell me your views on this issue in the comments below.

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