Divorcing clients, lonely and stressed, may long to meet someone new, feel desirable again, and just have fun, but divorce lawyers counsel against dating while the divorce is pending, even if separated, because dating has the potential to increase both the cost and the stress of the divorce experience.
The case that might otherwise have been settled easily and inexpensively can turn into a difficult, acrimonious and very expensive battle when one of the parties starts dating. Even though a separated spouse has the right to date, he or she must accept the significant consequences of that decision. Dating may cause a separated spouse to become irrational and filled with anger. Even if it is not true, the angry spouse may see dating as evidence that faithlessness caused the marital failure. It does not matter whether the anger is fair or not. Anger makes a divorce much more difficult to settle, and it drives up the cost of the case dramatically. An angry spouse may seek to alienate the children, relatives and friends.
Dating can alienate children, sometimes dramatically and irreparably. The children feel abandoned when their other parent brings home a new friend, and they sympathize and align with the other parent, who becomes a victim. Moreover, they may not accept a new person even though they might willingly embrace him or her later. Parents should take great care in introducing someone new into the lives of their children.
While a divorce is pending, and for many months thereafter, a divorce veteran goes through tremendous emotional and psychological changes. A person’s worldview may change every few weeks, which makes it a bad time to enter into a new long-term relationship. Rebound relationships – ones where a person ricochets from a failed marriage – usually go nowhere.
Moreover, there may be legal downsides to dating during a divorce.
Dating during a divorce may make a spouse less likely to settle custody and parenting time issues on a reasonable and rational basis because children may become less likely to want to be in the dating parent’s custody. Children may become so alienated that there is a complete breakdown of the parent-child relationship. Put bluntly, judges and experts who help in custody and parenting time determinations are not impressed with a person who dates during a divorce because dating shows callousness toward the children. Dating during the divorce could tip the scale in favor of the other parent in a custody battle.
The innocent new somebody can be deposed by the other side’s lawyer 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 spent on the new friend, how much money was spent dating this person, and whether the spouse said anything that could be used against him or her at trial. Even if everything is on the level, the result is a lot of unnecessary stress, aggravation and cost.
Cohabitation during a divorce makes a bad situation even worse.
While dating during a divorce does not normally have an effect on an award of child or spousal support, cohabitation almost certainly adversely affects court’s view. Cohabitation can cost thousands of dollars over the duration of the spousal support award. Living with a new person and sharing expenses may undermine an argument for spousal support. It could cost thousands of dollars in reduced spousal support—or even no spousal support.
Cohabitation places someone in a better financial position compared to someone living alone that pays all his or her expenses. A court might conclude that, as a result of improved financial circumstances, certain property division issues should be resolved in favor of the other spouse. The judge might conclude that a party can afford to pay more money to a spouse as a property division judgment, or they might conclude the spouse should pay less money as property division because the live-in partner improves financial circumstances.
In the area of child support awards, when a person lives with someone else and shares expenses, the court can and does use that fact as a basis to set the child support obligation higher (when the payer lives with someone) or lower (when the recipient lives with someone).
The judge tries to make a property division award fair. During the course of a divorce, the judge makes many decisions about many different topics. The slightest nuances in the case can cause the judge’s decision to fall one way or the other. A judge seldom presents the factors that affect his or her decision, but a party in his or her court should do everything possible to make sure he or she commands the judge’s respect. Dating adversely affects children and may harm a person’s position with the judge. If you live with someone during the divorce, the court can consider that as a factor in the property division.
Needless to say, an unplanned pregnancy during a divorce can greatly escalate the complexity of the case because the court must verify paternity and determine custody and support requirements.
“Is it okay to 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.”