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Dating While Divorcing
"Is it okay if I go out on a date?" asked my client, "John". He had filed for divorce and taken his own apartment. "After fighting with my wife for two years, "I’d like be to be with someone who is glad to have me around."
I get this question all the time as a divorce attorney. And, my simple answer is always the same: "Not until your divorce is final." But, life is rarely simple. "John" was lonely and stressed out. Meeting someone new, feeling desirable again, and having fun struck him as a terrific idea. So, despite my cautions, and like many clients, "John" decided it "couldn’t hurt" to accept a friend’s offer to fix him up. Anticipating this, I gave "John" the 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, typically the opposite sex. 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-husband or wife, 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 under oath) and subpoenaed to testify at trial. The purpose is to determine exactly when the relationship began, is it sexual, did any marital property get transferred, such as by gift, how much money was spent on dating this person, and did the spouse say 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:
In any divorce case involving minor children, the Missouri court decides child custody and in doing so considers the wishes of the parents, the preference of the child if the child is old enough, the child's relationship with siblings and the family, the mental and physical health of the child, and the educational needs of the child.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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