While living together outside of marriage was once considered socially unacceptable, it is now very much the norm. The majority of couples cohabitate prior to marriage and many couples never choose to legally marry. If you have children from a prior marriage, however, you may wish to reconsider living with a new partner if custody of the children remains in dispute.
Anytime the parents of a minor child no longer live together, whether because of divorce, legal separation, or because they never lived together, the issue of custody of the child must be addressed. In Massachusetts “custody” may refer to legal and/or physical custody of the child. There are basically four types of custody arrangements, including:
How Are Custody Disputes Decided?
When the custodial decision must be made regarding a minor child, the parents will ideally work out an agreement between them that the court approves. If the parents are unable to reach an out-of-court agreement regarding custody, the court must intervene. Like all decisions made that impact a minor child, the court is required to decide custodial issues using the “best interest of the child” standard.
In Massachusetts, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 208 §31 governs custody of children. That statute does not require a judge to consider specific factors when deciding what is in a child’s best interest. Instead, the law states “When considering the happiness and welfare of the child, the court shall consider whether the child’s present or past living conditions adversely affect his physical, mental, moral or emotional health.” Factors a judge may consider when deciding custody of a minor child include:
The law does not specifically prohibit a parent seeking custody of a minor child from living with a new partner outside the bounds of legal matrimony. In fact, the law does not directly address the issue of cohabitating.
Nevertheless, if you are in a custody dispute, or you foresee one in the near future, you may wish to reconsider living with a new partner while the litigation is ongoing. A judge can consider your living arrangements when deciding custody of your child. The judge can also take into consideration the moral fitness and mental health of any other adult living in your household. Moreover, judges tend to place a significant value on stability when deciding custodial disputes regarding minor children. Adding someone new to your child’s life may be viewed as a destabilizing factor during a time when stability is crucial.
On the other hand, if you have concrete plans to marry, living with your fiancée may not be seen in quite the same negative light. In fact, it could be viewed as a positive factor in a custodial dispute if you and your spouse-to-be can provide a stable family life for your child. Because each scenario is unique, it is best to consult with an experienced custody lawyer to determine whether living with someone while litigating custody is in your best interest.