Dating During Divorce

It's not uncommon for divorcing spouses to seek comfort in a new partner, but if you choose to date during your divorce, you should be aware of the potential complications.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Considering Divorce? We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
First Name is required
First Name is required

Going through a divorce can be stressful and lonely. You're probably longing for a connection with another person and simply would like to have some fun. So if you've found someone you'd like to get to know better, you might be wondering if it's okay to go out on a date while your divorce is pending or even while you're separated before filing for divorce.

The answer to that question isn't a simple "yes" or "no." In some states, dating during a divorce or separation could complicate your ability to get the outcomes you want in your divorce. But if 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 seeing someone new before you're divorced.

What Is Considered "Dating" During a Divorce?

Dating can mean different things to different people. Legally speaking, there isn't a consistent definition of the term. In general, however, any social contact with another person that has a degree of romance or intimacy could be considered dating.

If the question of whether you were actually dating someone were to come up during your divorce case, the judge would probably look at the big picture. Depending on state law, some questions the judge might ask include:

  • Did you and the other person have at least some social connection that went beyond casual interactions (such as those you'd find in the workplace)?
  • How many interactions were there? How long did they last?
  • What did you—and perhaps the other person—expect to get out of the relationship?
  • Did your conduct or statements demonstrate an affirmation of your relationship?
  • Are there other aspects of this relationship that might suggest it was more than platonic?

A dating relationship can arise in the absence of intimate physical contact. Depending on the context, a dating relationship could even be established when the only contact you've had with the other person has been in the presence of other people or conducted online or through texts.

Dating During Divorce vs. Dating During Separation

Some states allow you to get a legal separation if you're not ready to take the leap into a divorce. The legal separation process is often very similar to the divorce process, but the main difference is the outcome: When a legal separation is finalized, you're still legally married—which means you can't get married to someone else.

In states that don't recognize legal separation, spouses can separate simply by living apart. They might decide that the separation is permanent, or they might agree to a trial separation to help them decide whether they really want to get divorced.

Whether it's a good idea to date while you're getting a legal separation depends on a number of factors, including state adultery laws and the effect that dating might have on your interpersonal relationships with your spouse, children, and other people involved.

Regardless of whether your state recognizes legal separation, it's always a good idea to work out a written separation agreement if you plan to separate from your spouse. Among other things, the agreement could clearly outline whether both of you are free to date other people. This is important because, if you ultimately get divorced, judges in some states will weigh the terms of your agreement when making decisions about the grounds for divorce, spousal support award, and child custody.

The Cons of Dating During Divorce

Most divorce lawyers advise their clients not to date while a divorce is pending (even if the couple is separated). There are several reasons for this advice, including:

  • Increased cost of divorce. Dating during divorce can cause the divorce to become more contentious, which almost always means more court battles (and higher attorneys' fees).
  • Higher stress levels. Juggling a new relationship at the same time as a divorce adds a layer of complexity that can make a divorce even more stressful.
  • Potential financial impact. In some states, dating while you're still technically married could lead your spouse to claim that you've been wasting assets (and therefore owe reimbursement). If you move in with someone during the divorce, the judge might also find that you'll need less spousal support because you're sharing living expenses with your new partner.
  • The potential of a fault-based divorced. Most divorcing couples file for no-fault divorce, which doesn't require giving a reason for the divorce beyond incompatibility or the fact that your marriage is simply broken. However, some states recognize fault-based divorce—and adultery is a common ground for these divorces. If your actions with the person you're dating constitute adultery under your state's laws (more on that below), your spouse might decide to file for a fault-based divorce, which will ultimately be more expensive and take longer to finalize than a no-fault divorce.
  • Harm to your relationship with your children. Dating during a divorce can be difficult for your children and create hard feelings between you and your soon-to-be-ex, which will make co-parenting even more difficult.

In reality, most judges won't penalize someone for dating during a divorce. But you'll need to consider whether the benefits of dating outweigh the potential legal and personal risks.

Is Dating During Divorce or Separation Considered Adultery?

A new partner's presence during a divorce, particularly when paraded in front of the spouse or children, can enrage your soon-to-be ex and raise suspicion that the relationship began before the separation. Your spouse might try to wage a legal war of sorts, in a misguided effort to exact some sort of revenge on you and your new partner.

In some states, your spouse might be able to claim that you've committed adultery, and that you should be penalized in some way (such as by reducing spousal support, reallocating assets, or reducing the time you can spend with your children). Adultery is generally defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person's spouse.

Depending on your state's laws and the specific issues in your case, your spouse's lawyer might be able to depose your new partner (that is, ask questions under oath and have the answers recorded to create a court record) or even subpoena them to testify at the divorce trial. This will be highly uncomfortable for everyone involved.

The purpose of a deposition (or testimony at trial) would be to determine:

  • exactly when the relationship began
  • whether it's sexual
  • whether you transferred any marital property to your new partner, such as by gift
  • how much money you spent on dating, and
  • whether you've said anything to your new partner that could be used against you in the divorce.

Even if everything is on the up-and-up, the result is that dating during divorce can add unnecessary aggravation and stress—and it might make your divorce more complicated and expensive.

How to Date During a Divorce

If you decide to date during your divorce, here are some key do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

The Don'ts of Dating During a Divorce

While going through a divorce or separation, it's important that you don't:

  • Date while you're still living with your spouse. Don't even consider dating until you've physically separated from your spouse, even if you or your spouse agree that the marriage is over. Otherwise, the judge (or your spouse) might decide the new relationship is the reason the marriage failed. Depending on your state's laws, this could lead a judge to award more of the marital assets to your spouse.
  • Behave badly in front of your children. 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, as it will likely upset your spouse and add to your child's pain. Introducing a new partner at a very early point in the relationship is not a good idea for your children, and making bad decisions like this could compromise your future custody rights. A good rule of thumb is to wait until after you're divorced to begin dating and then only introduce your children to a partner after you've been dating for at least six months.
  • Get pregnant (or impregnate your new partner). Don't get pregnant or impregnate someone before your divorce is final. Pregnancy will prolong your case until the baby is born so that the court can verify paternity and determine custody and support requirements.
  • Spend extravagant amounts of money on your new partner. Because you're still technically married to your spouse until the divorce is final, avoid spending a bunch of money on the person you're dating. Unless you have clearly (and in writing) already separated your finances, the money you spend while the divorce is pending could still be considered your spouse's money as well.
  • Move in with your new partner. If you start to cohabitate with the person you're seeing, the judge might consider your pooled finances and ultimately decide that you won't need as much spousal support from your ex because you have another source of support or reduced living expenses.

The Do's of Dating During a Divorce

Some potential do's while your divorce or separation is pending include:

  • Socialize in groups. Meeting new people in groups can help you avoid feeling isolated and maybe even help you find a new partner for once the divorce is final. Be careful not to pair off with someone, especially if you live in a state where an accusation of adultery could complicate your divorce outcomes.
  • Continue to network and attend events. It's okay to attend events individually and network socially. If you meet someone you like, be upfront about your situation. Exchange contact information, but avoid one-on-one contact until you're at least separated.
  • Cultivate a support group. Find a divorce support group to help you cope with feelings of loss and isolation.

Can a Judge Order Me to Not Date?

Most states permit judges to enter temporary orders while a divorce is pending. Most likely, though, these orders won't include an outright ban on dating. Instead, temporary orders usually address topics such as custody, child support, alimony, restraining orders for both spouses to prevent wasting marital funds, and anything else the judge considers essential.

Dating After Divorce

After the court finalizes your divorce, you and your spouse are free to date and remarry. However, if you have children with your ex-spouse, your divorce decree might include provisions that restrict dating in the presence of your children or prevent you from introducing a new partner to your children for a period of time.

If you'd rather not leave your future dating life up to a judge, you can work with your spouse to create a marital settlement agreement that addresses future relationships and introductions to your children in a way you and your spouse are comfortable with. For example, a settlement agreement might include terms that:

  • prohibit the presence of dating partners while the children are present (for example, no dinners with a third party)
  • ban unrelated overnight guests while the children are in the home
  • require you to allow the other parent to meet a new partner before your children do
  • impose a specific waiting period before you can introduce a new partner to your children, and
  • address any other provision you believe will protect your child's best interests.

Making the Decision: Is Dating During Divorce Worth It?

There's no way—legally speaking—that dating during divorce can help your divorce case, and it has the potential to seriously hurt your case. There can also be serious psychological effects of dating during a divorce. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether the risks are worth it.

Although dating during divorce might seem like a good way to alleviate the pain you're going through, there are other ways to cope and move forward. Once the divorce is finalized, you'll have a world of opportunities to start over and rebuild the life you want and deserve.

Considering Divorce?
Talk to a Divorce attorney.
We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you