While reading the news yesterday morning, I came across an article in the Washington Post about the struggles that a woman in Collin County, Texas was having with her divorce decree:
A judge has ruled that a North Texas lesbian couple can’t live together because of a morality clause in one of the women’s divorce papers.
The clause is common in divorce cases in Texas and other states. It prevents a divorced parent from having a romantic partner spend the night while children are in the home. If the couple marries, they can get out from under the legal provision — but that is not an option for gay couples in Texas, where such marriages aren’t recognized.
In my experience, there is quite a bit confusion over how a morality clause works. Generally, what we refer to as a “morality clause” is essentially a prohibition placed in a Texas divorce decree which prohibits the parent of a child from allowing another unrelated person with whom they are in a romantic relationship from being in the same household as the child between certain overnight hours, such as from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Keep in mind that few divorces are decided by judges – most couples in Texas settle their divorces by agreement. Most morality clauses aren’t imposed upon divorcing couples by Texas judges. Instead, they are agreed upon by the parties either through informal settlement discussions or through an alternative dispute resolution process, such as mediation.
Why would someone agree to such a clause? For some couples with young children, there is a concern that a parent who begins to date again may want to have their new significant other spend the night while the children are present, exposing their children to elements of the relationship that the other parent may have concerns about. Such clauses are less common where children are older at the time of the divorce. In fact, many couples negotiate an expiration of the “morality clause” once the youngest child reaches a certain age. The key here is that the parents are working together to determine what is best for their own children, rather than having the restriction imposed upon them by a judge.