How Can I Get Custody if My Ex-Wife Has Been Married Four Times?

by Beverly Bird

Courts recognize a parent’s right to move on after divorce, so remarriage in itself is not usually a cause for custody modification -- even if your ex has done it three times since the two of you parted ways. However, a substantial change of circumstance is an acceptable reason to petition the court for a custody change. Depending on how your ex’s most recent marriage affects your child, this might be sufficient reason to ask a judge to give you custody.

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Change of Circumstances

The courts in most states will only consider modifying custody if the parent seeking the change can prove that something major has occurred to affect the status quo. The change must usually have occurred in the custodial parent’s home where the child lives most of the time. Courts strongly favor stability in a child’s life and usually won’t force a child to move from one home to another after custody has been established, at least not without good reason. However, if new spouses are regularly moving in and out of your ex’s home, this isn’t conducive to a stable environment for your child.

Retroactivity Issues

If your ex was married twice before she met you, married and divorced you, then remarried again, it’s highly unlikely that a court would hold this against her and modify custody as a result. A different type of change in circumstances must have occurred since the court issued your existing custody order. If you want to use your ex-wife’s penchant for marrying against her in a custody dispute, for example, by implying that it says something about her morals or psychological stability, the time for that would have been when the judge was initially deciding custody in your divorce proceedings. If your ex has only remarried once more since divorcing you, her new spouse might enhance her suitability as a parent. If he has a good relationship with your child and brings added financially stability to your ex’s home, a court might see her latest marriage in a positive light.

Effect on Child

If your ex’s current spouse is abusive toward your child, her remarriage would be a change of circumstance that would probably affect a court’s decision. If you can prove the abuse or a negative home environment because of the remarriage, it’s likely a judge would move your child from your ex’s home to yours to protect him. If your ex has been married three more times since you broke up, you might also be able to make the case that a “revolving door” of spouses moving in and out of your ex’s home and bedroom is detrimental to your child’s emotional health. You must usually prove these types of issues unequivocally for a judge to change custody.

Child’s Preference

According to the American Bar Association at the time of publication, only two states -- Massachusetts and Vermont -- do not consider a child’s preference in custody matters in any respect. Of the remaining 48 states, some give a child’s wishes far more weight than others, especially as the child grows older. If your child is a teenager and he is distressed by the frequency with which his mother remarries, speak with an attorney to find out how your particular state will take his feelings into consideration. If he’s older and your state allows it, his desire to modify custody and live with you might be the deciding factor in a custody change, not your ex's habit of remarrying.