Will a Court enforce a provision regulating both parties from introducing romantic partners to their children in a Property Separation Agreement?

In the 2022 Fairfax County Circuit Court case of Powell v. Knoepfler-Powell, the parties entered into a Property Separation Agreement (“PSA”) addressing the introduction of the parties’ romantic partners to their child. The PSA was incorporated into the parties’ previous child custody order, which the Court was called upon to modify by the father. The Honorable David Bernhard, from the Fairfax Circuit Court, was the presiding Judge and wrote an opinion letter to the parties regarding the ruling.

The PSA provision at issue required the parties to “exercise
great care prior to introducing” their romantic “boyfriends or girlfriends” to their child. At the time of the hearing, the father was remarried, and the mother had a boyfriend. The Court was called upon to determine whether the PSA’s restriction was enforceable.

The Court noted the following:

“Provisions in which both parents in a child custody setting voluntarily enter into a mutual agreement as to whom they may introduce or what they may say to their child appear frequently in the Virginia law setting. Less clear is to what extent it is appropriate for a court to restrain the associations or speech of a parent in the context of what is in the best interests of a child.”

Ultimately, Judge Bernhard held that the provision was void as against public policy and unenforceable for the following reasons: (1) the clause was unduly vague, and (2) the clause called upon the Court to unreasonably limit the freedom of association and speech of the parties from interacting with their child into and throughout her adulthood.

Please contact the lawyers at Hicks Crandall Juhl, PC if you have any questions regarding these issues.