Something I often hear as a family law attorney is “I don't want my ex to be able to bring him/her around my kid!” This person is typically a girlfriend/boyfriend, friend, or family member that the other party does not approve of and/or does not like very much. Oftentimes, parties will ask me to propose a “morality clause” as part of a proposed parenting agreement in order to prevent their ex from bringing the perceived undesirable person around their child. Morality clauses indicate certain types of behavior a parent can or cannot do in the presence of the minor child. The most common example of a desired morality clause is to prohibit the parties from having significant others spend the night while the children are present. However, the reality is, unless your ex agrees to not bring the perceived undesirable person around your child, your ex is likely to be able to have any person they want around your child regardless of how you feel about that person.
Although morality clauses were once quite popular, they have fallen out of favor among most parties and with the Court. This could be, in part, due to changing social norms. However, a possible reason for this fallout is that morality clauses are very difficult to enforce simply because there is no way for one parent to watch the other 24-7 to ensure the other parent is complying with the morality clause. Also, one must consider how to enforce a morality clause if the relationship between a parent and their significant other becomes serious enough such that they decide to marry. Because the court cannot direct a party not to marry another person, the morality clause becomes moot. Finally, Courts typically do not like morality clauses because it places the Court in a situation where it must police the parties' personal lives. However, it is not the judiciary's job to determine who a party should or should not date, be friends with, or otherwise associate with. Thus, Courts generally do not include morality clauses in their own judgments unless there is a specific, compelling reason for doing so. As a result, the general rule is, unless the parties agree to place a morality clause in their parenting agreement, the Court is not going to order one.
Although your ex may generally associate with whomever he or she wants in the presence of your child, there are always exceptions to the general rule. For instance, the Court may prohibit a parent from bringing a certain person around his or her child if that specific person poses a legitimate danger to the child. An example of someone who may pose a legitimate danger to a child is a sex offender, someone who has committed violent crimes, or someone who has committed crimes against children, such as kidnapping. Someone who has committed a misdemeanor not against children would likely not be found to pose a threat to your child. For instance, I once had a case where one party wished to prohibit the other from bringing the children around a family member because that family member had been convicted of certain minor drug offenses. The court found that the family member did not pose a threat to the children, because there was no indication the family member had ever committed a crime against a child or posed any danger to a child. If you feel someone your ex associates with in the presence of your child poses a legitimate danger to your child, feel free to contact our office for your free consultation at 312-648-6115.