Getting divorced can mean untangling some sticky personal and financial issues. A wrinkle may be added when there are kids involved and you’re trying to work out custody arrangements, child support or a co-parenting plan. One parent or the other may suggest including a morality clause in the final divorce agreement. A morality clause can outline certain behaviors that each parent is expected to avoid and there are some pros and cons to implementing one, which we discuss below. You should also consider working with a financial advisor if you’re planning for or going through a divorce to help you get your finances in order.
What Is a Morality Clause in Divorce?
A morality clause in a divorce agreement is a provision that spells out what each party can or cannot do in the presence of their children. The purpose of a morality clause is to regulate behavior that may be harmful to said children in some way.
Morality clauses may take effect while a divorce is still in process during the separation phase, or once the final decree is issued by the court. In most cases, adding a morality clause to a divorce agreement is optional though there is an exception for Texas residents.
In certain Texas counties, a standing order requires that a morality clause be enforced while spouses are going through a divorce proceeding. Whether that clause then becomes part of the final decree is up to both parties involved.
Morality Clause Divorce Rules
Morality clauses aren’t always uniform, depending on where you live. However, there are generally some similarities in what a morality clause includes.
For example, a morality clause might specify that:
Neither parent can have a significant other of the opposite or same sex sleep overnight at their home when the children are present unless they’re legally married.
Neither parent can have a significant other of the opposite or same sex live in the home with the children unless they’re less legally married.
Morality clauses can also say that one parent’s significant other cannot be in the home at any time when the children are present or go on vacations or trips with the children. There may also be rules barring the use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs in the presence of children.
The purpose of a morality clause is to create a stable environment for the children of divorcing parents. Limiting when romantic partners can be around children can avoid them from being exposed to potentially unhealthy or harmful individuals. Some parents may also desire that type of clause if the spouse they’re divorcing is frequently in and out of relationships with different people.
How Is a Morality Clause Divorce Rule Enforced?
When divorcing spouses agree to a morality clause in a final decree, they’re essentially on the honor system. In other words, no one’s going to check in to make sure the terms of the decree are being enforced.
However, if someone suspects or determines that their former spouse is violating the terms of the clause set down in the divorce agreement, they can take them back to court. At that point, they can present their case to a judge to have them review the terms of the agreement to determine whether it’s being upheld.
If a judge agrees with the ex-spouse who’s bringing the claim, they can enforce the morality clause against the other parent. What that looks like can depend on what’s included in the clause.
For example, say you and your spouse divorce and two years later, you meet someone new. You ask that person to move in with you, even though your morality clause prohibits it. Your ex decides to file a custody case against you, arguing that having your significant other in the home is endangering the children.
The case goes to court and the judge sides with your former spouse. The judge then orders your significant other to vacate the home you share with your children within 30 days. It’s not necessarily fair but it’s legal if you’re found to be in violation of the morality clause that you agreed to when the divorce was finalized.
Pros and Cons of Morality Clauses in Divorce
Whether it makes sense to enforce a morality clause either during divorce or after can depend largely on your situation. Specifically, it may depend on how well you and your spouse get along and what your expectations are with regard to child custody and parenting styles.
In terms of the benefits of including a morality clause in divorce, you might consider one if you:
Want to be able to regulate who’s spending time around your children
Are concerned about your child being exposed to unsafe behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use
Can fully commit to any restrictions imposed on you regarding romantic relationships or other activities
Again, morality clauses are meant to protect children during a divorce, but they aren’t right for every situation. Here are some of the reasons to think twice about imposing a morality clause:
Dating rules may fit your lifestyle now if you’re not interested in seeing anyone just yet but they may not be workable in the long term
Spiteful ex-spouses may use morality clauses to try to punish the other spouse or gain an upper hand in custody proceedings
Children may suffer harm if they’re forced to testify in court about a parent’s behavior if the other spouse brings a case to enforce the clause
Morality clauses rely on parents to uphold their end of the bargain and do not offer a 100% guarantee that kids won’t be exposed to less-than-desirable persons or environments
The most important thing to remember is that a morality clause is a court order. Violating that order in any way could lead to legal headaches if you’re called back in front of a judge to explain your actions or your former spouse disputes custody.
There’s nothing barring them from doing so if you don’t have a morality clause. But adding one to a divorce decree places an additional legal burden on both of you. For that reason, you may want to consult your divorce attorney about whether it makes sense to include a morality clause.
The Bottom Line
From dividing assets to paying alimony, a divorce can be stressful as you try to separate your life from someone else’s and there’s even more to consider when there are children involved. Morality clauses may sound good in theory, but the execution can be complicated and sometimes result in negative consequences for one spouse. It’s important to fully consider all of the pros and cons before moving ahead with adding a morality clause to your divorce decree. It could impact the time you spend with your children, the total quality of time either parent has with the children or even your post-divorce budget.
Financial Planning Tips
Divorce can have a number of financial implications and it may be helpful to talk to your financial advisor to discuss what steps you can take to protect yourself. Your advisor may be able to help you create a post-divorce budget, establish a plan for saving and fine-tune your retirement goals. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
There are some important questions to ask in divorce that can affect your financial outcomes. For example, there may be an issue over how to divide retirement assets. In that instance, the judge may issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (ODRO) specifying how 401(k) or 403(b) plan assets should be split. If you’re receiving retirement assets following a divorce, you’ll also need to consider where to keep that money and how to manage any tax liability it might generate.
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