Scream Rule Number 1: Never Trust the Love Interest…Or Can You?

by | Oct 31, 2023 | Child Custody & Visitation, Divorce, Restraining Orders

Halloween is here, and with it comes our annual re-watch of horror and thriller films. One of my favorite series in this genre is the Scream series. The original Scream was released in 1996 by meta horror master, Wes Craven, and features a stellar cast including Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, and David Arquette. The film doesn’t take itself seriously but isn’t a “spoof” type film either. Instead, it runs on this interesting line of making commentary of society and traditional horror/thriller films, and slasher movies particularly, in a way that naturally releases comedy and can have you jumping out of your seat all within the same scene. The film released 3 more “sequels” (though this term is disputed and even addressed mockingly in the films) and then was “rebooted” in 2022 and 2023 with a new cast that includes many of the original fan favorites. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the two new films in the series, and it inspired me to re-watch the originals. I am happy to report the original films hold up and are still enjoyable to watch.

For those who haven’t seen the films, Scream is a slasher horror film whodunnit mystery that has the audience suspecting everyone and trusting no one. One of the ways Scream lovingly mocks itself and this type of film is by creating survival “rules” the characters often discuss and reference. According to the characters, if you follow the rules, you have the best chance at survival. Interestingly, rule number 1 has implications and lessons you can apply to your family law custody case.

Rule number 1 is never trust the love interest. This is because the love interest in the films often turns out to be involved in the murders and is using the relationship to further their agenda. In family law cases, we often come across issues where parents do not trust the new love interest and/or partner their Ex is with. Whether it is an issue of jealousy, frustration and revenge at the Ex, or a true concern regarding the new love interest’s ability to parent their children, the request is always the same: I don’t want my children to be around the new love interest.

The question then becomes, can the Court issue an order that prevents the children from being around the new love interest? The short answer is, probably not. Generally, in California, for the Court to make any kind of order regarding the new love interest there must be jurisdiction to do so, and it must be proven the children are in a true safety risk if they around the new love interest. The kind of true safety risk the Court generally looks to are physical safety issues. A dispute regarding parenting styles, different rules at different homes, etc. are likely not going to rise to the level necessary to prevent that person from being around your children.

In Scream, some of the love interests are actual murderers. While this is an extreme example, that is the kind of danger that could make a Court take notice and determine the children need protection. Making a request the Court order a new love interest to stay away from the children will depend greatly on the specific facts of your case and the claimed danger to the children. If the new love interest is likely to endanger your child’s emotional or physical health or impair the child’s emotional development (as can be shown through specific and reasonable evidence), a court may restrict that person’s access to your child. Circumstances in which a court could choose to restrict access include:

  1. The love interest has consumed drugs or alcohol and driven with the child in a car;
  2. The love interest has a criminal history involving children;
  3. The love interest has negligently provided access to dangerous items like drugs or weapons to the children;
  4. The love interest is a sex offender or has been convicted of child abuse.

Some judges are willing to put provisions in place that limit access to the new love interest, but don’t restrict access completely. For example ,the Court could order no unrelated overnight guests. You may also be able to get a restriction against the children being left solely in their care, especially if it’s a very new relationship.

A newer relationship could have a little less validity than an established one. A long term, stable relationship is generally respected, and a marriage certainly is respected, and it would likely take serious allegations against the spouse to obtain any kind of limiting order. These orders are also often temporary and subject to change as relationships and the facts evolve.

So, the moral of this story is while it is understandable to be protective over your children and want to shield them from potential harm your Ex’s new love interest may bring, consider all the facts and whether this is a situation of true risk or harm, or dislike and disagreement.