“Is it okay if I go out on a date?” This question comes up quite often for soon-to-be divorcees. And, the simple answer should always be: “Not until your divorce is final.” But, life is rarely simple. Divorcing clients are often lonely and stressed out, and they may be longing to meet someone new, feel desirable again, and just have fun. So, many clients decide that just one date can’t hurt. If you find that you just can’t wait until your divorce is final to start dating again, this article provides a few “do’s and don’ts” of dating before you are divorced.
Unfortunately, there is more that you shouldn’t do than should, but first let’s clarify what is meant by “dating.” Legally, “dating” means one-on-one social contact with another person. There is no distinction between platonic contacts and ones that are romantic or sexual, although from a practical standpoint, the romantic/sexual relationships are the ones that draw scrutiny and cause complications.
The reason divorce lawyers counsel against dating while the divorce is pending, even if separated, is that it has the potential to increase both the cost and the stress of the divorce trial. You are not supposed to date if you are married. Judges, however, rarely punish someone who begins dating – sexually or otherwise – once they have physically separated from their spouse.
Even so, the presence of someone new, particularly when paraded in front of the spouse and/or children, can enrage the soon-to-be ex, and also create the suspicion that the relationship began as an “affair” before the separation. The innocent new friend can be deposed by the other side’s lawyer (that is, asked questions that are taken under oath and recorded by a stenographer or even videotaped) and subpoenaed to testify at trial. The purpose is to determine exactly when the relationship began, whether it is sexual, whether any marital property has been transferred to the new friend, such as by gift, how much money was spent on dating this person, and whether the spouse has said anything that could be used against him or her at trial. Even if everything is on the up-and-up, the result is a lot of unnecessary aggravation and cost.
But, for those unwilling to wait, here are a few guidelines for dating while divorcing:
The Don’ts of Dating During a Divorce
- Don’t even consider dating until you have physically separated, even if you/your spouse agree that the marriage is over. It could be cited as a reason the marriage failed and (depending on the laws of your state) could lead a judge to award more of the marital assets to your spouse.
- Once separated, date with the utmost propriety, particularly around your children. Don’t do anything in front of them that you wouldn’t be comfortable describing to a judge. Avoid introducing your children to your new sweetheart. It will likely exacerbate their pain and could compromise your future custody rights.
- Don’t get pregnant or impregnate someone before the divorce is final. It will prolong your case until the baby is born so that the court can verify paternity and determine custody and support requirements.
The Do’s of Dating During a Divorce
- Do socialize in groups, being careful not to pair off with someone.
- It’s okay to attend events individually and network socially. If you meet someone you like, be up front about your situation. Exchange contact information, but avoid one-on-one contact until you are at least separated.
- Find a support group for people in the midst of a divorce to help you cope with feelings of isolation.