co-parenting rules tell ex introduce boyfriend to kids

I often hear from moms who:

  • Say that their ex freaked out when he found out she was dating, and how should she deal with him?
  • Ask how she should tell her ex about her new boyfriend.
  • Are livid her kids met her ex's new woman.
  • Insist on meeting the kids' dad's new girlfriend before the children do

[Why you don't have to wait to introduce your kids to your new boyfriend]

To all of these scenarios, I say: It is none of his or your business.

That is right: Your romantic life is none of your ex's business. Nor is his yours.

(On the other hand, if you struggle about telling her new boyfriend about your divorce — that is another issue. He should absolutely know your marital status, and the general facts, but may not want to be mired in the minutia of the proceedings).

Now,  you may follow Gwyneth Paltrow and the pat divorce advice that informs you to constantly communicate with your ex and involve them in all decisions that involve the kids. Some people have really beautiful relationships with their exes, or friendly or civilized relationships. That's great. As in any relationship — platonic, romantic, familial, professional — you conduct yourself with dignity and according to the understanding of disclosure with the other party.

But that is an agreement — implicit or explicit — with that person. That is not the law of co-parenting for every family.

[29 rules for successful co-parenting]

One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial,  discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.

Try OurFamilyWizard for free for 30 days now >>

Read OurFamilyWizard review on >>

In other words, if you and your ex have a nice relationship and chat freely and often about the goings-on in your lives, and you start dating someone and have been telling everyone else in your life about this special new person, then it would be really weird and suspicious if you didn't tell your ex.

Not that many people have that kind of relationship. Pretending you do, when you don't, only creates problems.

As I've written about extensively, dating is normal and healthy regardless of your parental status. Kids seeing their mother or father spend time with nice people, people who may be casually involved in the children's lives or become lifelong step-parents, does not need a security clearance from the other parent.

Because you are no longer romantically entwined and, as such, you are each free to date as each of you see fit.

Also: Parents dating is not a big deal.

[Benefits of dating single dads, and where to find single dads to date]

Hear more about intro'ing your new guy to the kids, and whether you should tell their dad in this Like a Mother episode:

If it feels like a big deal that the other parent is dating around the kids, there are several possible explanations:

  • The upset parent is jealous or otherwise not emotionally over the relationship.
  • The upset parent is hyper-controlling (which is basically the same as above).
  • The upset parent has an unhealthy attitude about dating overall, and thinks it is a toxic, dirty thing children must be protected from.

[9 reasons dating and sex are better as a single mom]

Further, if you know your ex will be upset about the new person, but tell them anyway, there are some not-great reasons for this, too:

  • You're trying to make him jealous.
  • You are living in a fantasy world in which you have a happy co-parenting relationship in which sharing about your romantic life is organic and normal, ignoring your reality that proves you have anything but.
  • You're flaunting your newfound independence and his inability to control you.
  • You know he will get all crazy and jealous and make a scene in front of your new boyfriend, who you suspect will then get jealous and crazy and you get off on the sword fight (or some other similar crazy-making ain't nobody got time for).

Rules for introducing the kids to your new boyfriend — even if your ex is difficult

  1. You decide within yourself what your values are, and conduct yourself consistently within these values. Everything comes back to this. Be consistent. Your commitment to your own values will inform your ex how he can expect you to behave, and what is expected of him. This teaches your children the meaning of values overall, and evokes their respect and sense of security (because they know their mom is a strong and just leader). It also does men you date a favor. They are likely unsure about the kids-dating-mom rules, and look to you for what is what.
  2. For you, is dating or having a boyfriend and telling your kids about this man an earth-moving occasion requiring a NATO summit of your children's closest inner circle? If yes, then draft a written letter informing your ex that the man you have been on six dates with will be joining you and the kids for Taco Tuesday three weeks from the following Tuesday, have the letter notarized and sent via your lawyer to his lawyer.
  3. If you don't think it's a big deal to intro your new boyfriend to the kids, then just introduce your boyfriend to the kids when you feel like it. Remember: The longer you wait, the bigger a deal this becomes, the more pressure mounts on him, you, the kids, and the relationship.
  4. If you have a nice, friendly and open relationship with your ex, then share your dating status with him in a way that is consistent with the rest of your dealings.
  5. If you don't think dating is a big deal, but know your ex will go ballistic if he finds out a man who is not him spent time in the same minivan as his children, then you should tell him. The reason is this: If you know he will go bananas about the kids meeting a man, then your kids one some level know their dad will go bananas about them meeting your man. That creates a giant tension in the family, and your kids will be inclined to chose sides, lie and protect you, their dad, and most of all, themselves.

Can you stop your ex from introducing a new partner?

It is common for parenting agreements to include a clause about how long the relationship must last before the kids are introduce, as well as that the other parent must first meet the new partner.

These clauses are bullshit.

For one, they are not enforceable in court. Let's say your divorce agreement states that you and your ex must wait 6 months before the kids meet a new partner, but your ex violates that. Are you going to haul him to court? And if so, what do you hope the judge will do?

Most likely the judge will be pissed that you are wasting her time with your control issues.

Two, this business of controlling the other parent's dating life is messy. What if your ex starts dating a long-time neighbor the kids have known for years? Do they have to stop waving hello in the driveway until 6 months-from-the-day-they-first-had-romantic feelings? Who has time for all this minutea.

Plus, that six-month rule is somehow supposed to increase chances that the relationship is secure before the kids are brought into the mix. Of course, there are zero guarantees about relationship stability, most especially after divorce.

Three, let's say you do meet the new girlfriend before the kids do, and you don't like her. Then what? You have no more control over how that situation progresses than your ex has over your new boyfriend.

Let it all go, and focus on things you can control!

Try OurFamilyWizard for free for 30 days now >>

Coparenting while in a relationship

Blending families is a struggle, no matter how wonderful all parties are. But there are some general guidelines for melding step- and blended families after a divorce or single parenthood:

  • Parents make the rules and lead, not children
  • Take it slow. No need to rush.
  • Children's feelings and concerns should be listened to, addressed and prioritized. But that does not mean that kids are in charge.
  • In a healthy family involving two parents in the household (of course healthy families can consist of any configuration), the romantic couple puts each other first, before kids.
  • Keep communication open with your co-parent and his new partner, if possible.

Co-parenting and setting boundaries in a new relationship

That is why I say in this situation: Tell your ex. Do not ask him. Tell him, and do not care one tiny bit about his response.  You do not introduce the men to each other (yet, at least), or make any moves at all that suggest you are looking for his approval. A text that says: “I wanted you to hear it from me and not the kids: I am dating, and sometimes the guys I see meet the kids.”

It's not up for debate, or discussion. This is your romantic life, and your court-ordered time with the kids. If your ex argues this is harming the kids, let him take you to court for inviting a nice man along with you to Applebee's. Otherwise, ignore his tantrum.

[Best dating apps for single parents]

And if you are the mom going bananas because you heard from your kids / the ex / his cousin / Facebook that his new girlfriend about whom everyone has more or less nice things to say has been staying over at his place, check yourself. Because this is just the reality of a two-household family. He is the kids' father, and legally he has a right to parent as he sees fit. You might not like her, or agree with his decisions, but abuse aside, you have no legal or moral right right to try to stop that.

In fact, the more you try to control his life and his time with the kids, the worse life will be for the whole family. Including for you.

In fact, if this is you, I urge you to revisit your values. Because the more supportive you are of your ex's new relationship or romantic life, the more supported your kids feel, and the more cooperative your ex will perceive you to be.

You may also consider therapy — either for yourself, your kids or for you and your ex. Online therapy leader BetterHelp offers unlimited chat and email with your therapist, as well as weekly video or voice sessions, starting at $35/week. 10% discount for new members, financial assistance and an A+ BBB rating. Try BetterHelp now >>

And only good things can come of that.

Co-parenting communication guidelines

When communicating with your kid's other parent, communication is key. Whether by text, phone or in-person:

  • Stick to the facts, and information he needs to know
  • Don't get emotional
  • Don't lecture him
  • Respond promptly
  • Communicate as you hope he would communicate with you
  • Don't respond if he gets angry/ lectures / threatens / gets emotional

Related: What to do when your kid's dad shows up late, unexpected or cancels last minute 

About Emma Johnson founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. Amanda on September 15, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Very helpful. Thank you!!

  2. Fed up on March 23, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    What about the toxic narcisissits who are incapable of putting the kids first, bring around a new guy every few months and force the kids to call them “dad”, elevate them to coparent status immediately and then suddenly, next visit, they’re gone and replaced with another “dad” by the following visit? Because this happened through 13 cycles of “dads” with my bonus kids and my 7 year old daughter has reactive attachment disorder BECAUSE of this very thing! Not harmful? Not our business? Bull.

  3. Mike on December 20, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    So your saying it’s ok for the ex to kick a bf to the curb just to have a new one spending the night 3 weeks later? Seems as tho the girls are going to start to pick up on the fact it’s ok to have random guys in and out staying the night because mommy does it. Going to ask my attorney. Have no problem with ex dating or even introducing to a new bf but feel there should be a gap in between.

    • M. Rubio on August 15, 2018 at 12:14 am

      SERIOUSLY!? So…why do the kids have to be part of their mom’s dating life? Why should the new boyfriend meet the kids unless he plans to stick around? If its not a big deal as you say, then why do it at all? Kids are a big deal and being flippant about who you introduce your children to is irresponsible and unnecessary. If the new boyfriend is none of the ex’s business, why is it the kids business unless he’s going to stick? Its not about security clearance–its about the other parent knowing who is hanging around the kids. And any man who hangs out casually with his date and her kids is not right–you simply don’t hang out with children as a grown man unless their parents know who you are–if you do, and don’t introduce yourself respectfully, you might be a ‘chump.’ I don’t want chumps around my children–you? I am remarried and my wife has never hidden in the shadows like some strange weirdo hanging around my kids. She has integrity. And she did not meet my kids until we were seriously involved. I disagree with your opinion on this matter. Its not about jealousy or control–its about adults being respectful to children and being well….adults. Romantic life of a divorced parent is not the ex’s business OR a child’s business either–why should it be? Once the romance hits the kids home, how could it not be the other parent’s business?! Are you kidding me! Date, date, date and leave the kids with the other parent while you do it. You present a destructive recipe against co-parenting with your advice. Further, what are the kids supposed to do? Not tell the other parent or share stories? That creates deception and tension. The Kickass Single Mom should focus on the Mom part–Or call the book ‘The Carousing Divorcee with Kids.’ I don’t think kids need to see a line of suitors trying to ‘bag’ their mom in order to see their mom have a good time with nice people. Perhaps you could explain in your next book how one takes kids on dates anyway?–seems way odd. That’s not a date anymore–its parental substitution and absurd. You are right–you don’t have to tell the ex. And for that reason, the kids should also be spared lest they be given information which is meant to be withheld from the other parent–not cool. Divorce is between two adults. The kids never divorce either parent. Hence once you bring anything into the kids lives, the other parent is also there by association. Sorry Emma–you are off the mark on this one. You trying a kick ass single mom or a dating demon who has kids?

      • Snarky SLP on August 23, 2018 at 9:08 pm

        I agree 100%! Introductions to kids shouldn’t be made unless the adults agree that the relationship is serious with long-term potential. I’m liberal as hell, but when it comes to my son, I’m not keen on “shacking up” just because my ex is ok doing it.

        I understand that not all relationships work out, I am divorced after all. But I’d like to expose my 6-year-old to as few failed romantic relationships as possible. I’m a child of divorce, and my dad dated and remarried so often that I began to become detached to his paramour du jours. I knew they’d be gone in a couple years, so what’s the point in cultivating anything?

        Didn’t love this article, but to each their own I guess.

        • AJ on September 5, 2018 at 3:27 pm

          I have a 6 year old and I am quite close to my ex for my son’s sake, but we do not share intimate details about our dating life. Based on how much he is up my ass, it is unlikely he has a girlfriend. I do not believe I have to tell him anything about who I date. I couldn’t even imagine bringing a new man around my son for at least a year of dating. Since I would not introduce my son to a potential boyfriend, my son’s father does not need to know anything. I am fine with limiting my dates to times that my son is with his father. His father is also at my house a few times a week to see my son. I have gone on dates during that time with no one the wiser.

      • Chelsea on May 30, 2020 at 9:11 am

        I see some triggered people commenting on this post who haven’t gone through sufficient healing from their relationships and are still struggling with control and moving on. Relationships don’t fit in a box and can’t be prescribed. Also, yes we should always place the care and well being of our children first but guess what, children are resilient and the world isn’t a perfect fairytale. Not introducing someone to your kids until it’s serious? What even is that definition? Ex partners owe nothing to those they separate from, least of all, control over who they date and how they live their life going forward. If you are still trying to control someone, you aren’t over them and have some dependency issues still. And finally, relationships of all sorts are messy, we are human beings with emotions. Maybe if we let go of the fairytale expectation of what life is and should be, we wouldn’t be so hurt over letting things go. We aren’t even promised tomorrow yet we are supposed to jail our ex spouses from enjoying love and happiness ‘because of the children’. Go live and stop holding on to something that isn’t there anymore. Your children aren’t a control weapon, THATs the real toxic dynamic in the situation. Seeing a happy parent dating someone new is not nearly as bad as the crap they are exposed to on tv, what actually happens in reality in our communities, the internet, violent video games, porn you likely watch, etc. stop fooling yourselves and move on with your life. You will be happier and so will your kids when you can let go. We only get this one life. Go live it !

      • Doodles.p on July 1, 2020 at 11:52 am

        I appreciate reading this, it was very helpful for me. This article seems very gender bias.

      • Kelly on July 22, 2020 at 6:14 am

        I agree wholeheartedly! I just wish my ex shared the same sentiments. I don’t want my children to grow up with the belief that it’s ok for adults to behave like this!
        It’s destructive and irresponsible and I won’t allow anyone to be around my children who believes otherwise.

  4. Brandy on July 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Question: Should you inform your ex, who is still having a difficult time dealing with the separation, that your new significant other is moving in with yourself and the kids?

  5. DJ on March 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Re: AMarie

    My ex tried to talk my lawyer into putting such a clause in our custody agreement. It did not happen.

    It seemed weird that he asked for it, as he moved in with me before my previous divorce was final, and often told me that what I did was not any of my ex-husband’s business. Now he wants me to agree to not have any overnight visitors until our 9 year old is 16. Which reads to me like I am only allowed to do as I like if it is what he would like me to do.

    • Emma on March 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

      Right- those clauses are all about control, not the wellbeing of the kids.

  6. AMarie on July 24, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    “…over at his place, check yourself. Because this is just the reality of a two-household family. He is the kids’ father, and legally he has a right to parent as he sees fit. You might not like her, or agree with his decisions, but abuse aside, you have no legal or moral right right to try to stop that.”

    That’s usually not true. Most parenting plans/custody agreements have a paramour clause- that no paramour can spend the night when the children are present. I had my lawyer specifically remove that clause from mine, but it’s usually there.

    That said, it’s a dumb fight to pick, but usually there is some legal ground to stand on.

    • Amanda on September 15, 2020 at 6:34 pm

      Hi, how did you go about removing the morality clause? Did your ex agree with it. I didn’t realize how controlling it is until after it was finalized. It reads as if we can not move in or have anyone sleep over until we remarry again or the child is no longer at the home.

      I’m wanting to have it edited, but don’t know what to do. Talk to lawyer or ex first?

Leave a Comment