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.

"Is it okay if I go out on a date?" is a question that comes up quite often for soon-to-be divorcees. The simple answer should always be: "Not until your divorce is final." But, life is rarely this 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 only 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 seeing someone new before you're divorced.

The Costs of Dating During Divorce

Unfortunately, when it comes to dating during a divorce, there is more that you shouldn't do than should, but first, let's clarify what's 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. However, from a practical standpoint, romantic or sexual relationships are the ones that draw scrutiny and may cause complications in your divorce case.

The reason divorce lawyers counsel against dating while the divorce is pending (even if you're technically separated), is that it can increase both the cost and the stress of the divorce trial. You're not supposed to date someone else while you're still married. However, judges rarely punish someone who begins dating—sexually or otherwise—once they've physically and permanently separated from their spouse.

Even if everything is on the up-and-up, the result is that dating can add a lot of unnecessary aggravation, stress, and possibly even a more complicated and expensive divorce.

New Relationship or Affair?

A new partner's presence during a divorce, particularly when paraded in front of the spouse or children, can enrage the soon-to-be ex and raise suspicion that the relationship began as an "affair" before the separation. In return, your spouse may try to wage a legal war of sorts, in a misguided effort to exact some sort of revenge on you and your new partner. Whether justified or not, bringing a new partner around can certainly increase tension and conflict, delay the divorce proceedings, and increase your attorney's fees, if you have lawyers handling your case.

Depending on your state's laws and the specific issues in your case, the other side's lawyer may be able to depose your new partner (that is, ask questions under oath and have a stenographer and/or videographer record all the answers.) Your spouse's attorney may even subpoena your new partner to testify at your trial. This will be highly uncomfortable for everyone involved.

The purpose of a deposition is to determine:

  • exactly when the relationship began
  • whether it is sexual
  • whether the married spouse transferred any marital property to the new friend, such as by gift
  • how much money the married spouse spent on dating this person, and
  • whether the spouse has said anything that opposing counsel or the judge can use in court to further the other's case.

Even if everything is on the up-and-up, the result is that dating while your case is still pending can add a lot of unnecessary aggravation, stress, and possibly even a more complicated and expensive divorce. 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've physically separated from your spouse, even if you or your spouse agree that the marriage is over. The judge (or your spouse) may decide the new relationship is the reason the marriage failed and (depending on your state's laws) this 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, 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.
  • 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.

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 upfront about your situation. Exchange contact information, but avoid one-on-one contact until you're at least separated.
  • Find a divorce support group to help you cope with feelings of loss and isolation.

Can the Court Order Us Not to Date?

Most states permit judges to enter temporary orders while the divorce is pending. Temporary orders usually address custody, child support, alimony, restraining orders for both spouses to prevent wasting marital funds, and anything else the court considers essential. Both spouses must follow temporary orders or risk the court finding them in contempt, meaning they violated a court order. Contempt of court charges can carry fines, attorney's fees, and even time in jail.

It's unlikely that a judge would order an outright ban on dating during the divorce, but this doesn't mean that a court won't punish a dating spouse if that spouse uses marital funds to date, introduces an unsavory individual to the children, or otherwise affects the family and/or marital finances during the divorce.

Additionally, if you date during the divorce and your spouse accuses you of committing adultery, the court may consider your relationship when deciding alimony and/or property division, depending on the laws in your state.

Dating After the Divorce

After the court finalizes your divorce, both spouses are free to date and remarry. However, if you have children with your ex-spouse, your divorce decree may include provisions that prevent you from introducing new partners to your children for a period of time or that may include restrictions on dating around your children.

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. If both spouses agree, you can include any of the following provisions in your agreement before presenting it to the judge:

  • neither spouse will have a dating partner around while the children are present (no dinners with a third party)
  • no unrelated overnight guests while the children are in the home
  • parents must wait a specific period of time before introducing children to new partners
  • parents must allow the other to meet a new partner before the children do, and
  • any other provision you believe will protect your child's best interests.

If you're going through a divorce and have additional questions on the ramifications of dating someone new, contact a family law attorney near you.

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