When a Child Dies While in the Care of the Other Parent’s New Partner

Q: What can I do if I feel my child isn’t safe around my ex’s new partner?

Many things about getting a divorce aren’t easy, especially when there are children involved. Transitioning from living under one roof to two roofs is usually hard on the children. Things are often further complicated when one or both of the parents starts over with somebody new or gets remarried.

When a couple with children divorces or parts, custody and visitation must be worked out. In Arizona, the terms “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced with “legal decision-making” and “parenting time”. And in most cases, it’s in the best interest of the children for their parents to equally share in both.

Legal decision-making is the parent’s right to make the major decisions about or on behalf of the child, including matters of education, healthcare, religious upbringing and personal care. Parenting time is the time the parent has physical custody of the child. During this time, the parent who has the physical custody of the child is allowed and expected to make routine decisions regarding the childcare without consulting the other parent. There is a presumption that the custodial parent will responsibly care for their children–feed, clothe, house, and otherwise protect them from harm on “their watch”.

It is not uncommon for divorced parents who have remarried (or who have a new significant other) to have concerns about the new adult in their child’s life, especially if s/he may be functioning as a part-time parent figure responsible for their child’s care and safety during their ex’s parenting time. Will s/he love and care for my child, make good decisions, and keep my child safe from harm?

Recently, a Phoenix boy died a heat-related death while hiking with his mother’s boyfriend on a day when an “extreme heat warning” was reportedly in effect and temperatures were in excess of 110°. The boyfriend, a registered nurse, reportedly tried but was unable to carry the boy to safety or call for help, so he reportedly left him to get help. The boy’s grief-stricken father and stepmother are questioning the mom and boyfriend’s decision and actions as to “why they thought it was a good idea to take [the boy] out into extreme heat that day” and are seeking to have them held “accountable” after learning that the boyfriend apparently won’t face criminal charges in the incident.

There are many factors that go into deciding what is in “the best interest of the child” at the time legal decision-making and parenting time is originally scheduled. Circumstances change over time that may impact that decision. In such cases, a modification of legal decision-making or parenting time orders may be sought. For example, had the young boy survived the hiking tragedy, his father may have sought a modification order based on that incident and concerns for the child’s safety during the mother’s parenting time.

If you are getting a divorce or are already divorced and have questions regarding custody and visitation, or need information regarding modification orders, Cohen Family Law can help. Contact us for a free consultation. From our offices in Phoenix, we represent clients throughout Arizona in all matters of family law.