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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
If you decide to date during your divorce, here are some key do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
While going through a divorce or separation, it's important that you don't:
Some potential do's while your divorce or separation is pending include:
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.
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:
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.