Should I Include a Morality Clause in My Divorce Agreement?

When parents divorce, what is best for their children is typically at the front of their minds. When negotiating the terms of the divorce, parents may ask for a morality clause to be included in their New York divorce agreement.

Morality clauses are case-specific and can be appropriate in certain circumstances. Remember that the clause applies equally to both former spouses.

Purpose of Morality Clauses

Parents sometimes use morality clauses to help ensure that young children are not confused by new romantic partners entering the picture. The changes divorce brings – new homes and new schedules – can leave a child feeling ungrounded. A morality clause can create a sense of stability with parents focusing on the needs of the children.

These clauses are also referred to as cohabitation clauses or paramour clauses, but the stipulations can place restrictions on numerous behaviors. Clauses can prohibit the parents from drinking in front of the children, for instance.

The wording of the clause is tailored to what is best for the family. Timeframes can also be included. For example, parents cannot introduce their children to a new romantic interest within six months of their divorce. They cannot have their new sweetheart spend the night when the children are in that parent’s custody for one year after the divorce. Some clauses are indefinite.

Southern states began using such clauses because cohabitating while not married was against the law. While those laws are gone, the clause has stuck around and is used throughout the U.S.

Morality Clauses Are Not Only Found in Divorce Decrees

Morality clauses can also be found in prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Some media reports suggest that Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have a clause in their prenup that says if either one is unfaithful, they must pay $5 million to the harmed spouse. Contracts that accompany legal separation can also include provisions that govern behavior.

A morals clause is included in many employment contracts as well.

Unintended Consequences

The morality clauses that limit an ex’s conduct can create reactions that cannot be predicted. If the divorce agreement states that a new partner can only spend the night if they are married, that stipulation could lead the ex to rush into a marriage too soon. Some say a tragic case in Texas was partly due to a morality clause.

David and Kelly Syring divorced in 2012. David had admitted to having an affair with Laura Day. According to David, Kelly asked for a stipulation in their divorce agreement: no overnight guests unless the parent is legally married to that person. David and Laura got married in Las Vegas, three months after the divorce was final.

He admits he rushed into the marriage because he did not want to be restricted by the morality clause. Two months after the marriage, Laura was accused and eventually convicted of drowning her 6-year-old stepson. If they had not rushed into marriage, perhaps the union would not have happened, and the little boy would be alive. Laura maintains her innocence and is appealing her conviction and life sentence.

This is an extreme example.

Another issue is that these provisions can be difficult to enforce. If one ex believes the other is violating the agreement, the child may be dragged into the court battle as a witness. A child testifying against a parent is generally not in that child’s best interests.

Negotiate a Divorce Agreement That Fits Your Family

Going through a divorce can be a traumatic and stressful time. Our job at Samuelson Hause PLLC is to support you through both the legal and emotional challenges of the process. Some circumstances that call for morality clauses. We also make sure that conditions are included in the agreement because they serve the best interests of everyone and are not used only as a tool for punishment. Our level-headed and comprehensive approach will help you begin your newly single life on the right foot.

Learn more about your rights in a divorce agreement. Schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys by calling (516) 584-4685 or contacting us online.