If you are involved in a divorce in the State of Texas, chances are you are going to have a “Morality Clause” slapped on you. What is a “Morality Clause”? Well, in simple terms, it is a prohibition against a parent allowing anyone with whom they are involved in a dating or romantic situation to spend the night while the divorce is ongoing. The intent and purpose of the clause is well-meaning and noble. It is designed to protect the stability, routine, and provide consistency for children while Mom and Dad are divorcing. No one could debate this goal as virtuous and protective of children. However, in the real and practical world we live in, the real questions are: does it work and is it worth it?
The Denton County Standing Orders sets the hours of an overnight between 10:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Dallas County, Collin County, and surrounding counties vary as to the starting and stopping times, but each defines what an overnight will be. So, the parent that can’t accept the purpose of the Morality Clause will go through all kinds of machinations to give the appearance of compliance. They might make a big deal of the paramour leaving right before the start time of the overnight time then put the kids to bed and slip the new boyfriend or girlfriend in the back door and into the bedroom. The alarm is set early the next morning and Mommy or Daddy’s new friend leaves early out the back door only to reappear right at 7:01 am with donuts and kolaches for everyone. What a great guy or girl. This is but one of many ways to try and skirt the Morality Clause and it is played out thousands of times each weekend by custody litigants.
So, if you are a rules follower because you believe the law is there for a reason or only because you are afraid of negative consequences – then it works. A psychologist friend of mine once told me that the #1 universal truth he has found in all his years of treating his patients was that “people are going to do what they really want to do.”
There are as many variations of the Morality Clause as there are leaves on a tree. Lawyers can bill many hours crafting, negotiating, drafting and trying Morality Clauses. This is not a financially sound idea. In addition, even if you can get one into your divorce decree – what benefit does it have to you? If your ex is determined to violate it and you bring an action to enforce it, guess who your number one witnesses are? Your kids! The only indisputable proof you are going to have is your kids testifying about waking up in the middle of the night scared and going to see Mommy or Daddy and finding someone else there. Are you going to call your kids to testify? Of course not – that double or triples the harm you are trying to protect them from. Can you use a private investigator? Yes, but that now adds another layer of cost to your already too expensive litigation and all that PI is ever going to be able to say is that the paramour was seen entering the house or apartment and never leaving until the next morning. While this may be persuasive, such proof is never conclusive.