~by Elizabeth Stephenson~
D.W.S. (Dating While Separated) — Can I date after I separate from my spouse, but have not officially divorced?
This is a question a lot of people ask once they are no longer living as a married couple. Legally, the answer is yes. There is no criminal law that prevents someone from dating after separation and before they are divorced.
Whether you were unhappy in your marriage for a long time prior to separating, or as the months have passed after your separation and you miss the companionship of another person, it’s a reasonable question to ask. Many people enjoy having a special “someone” to share their free time with and waiting the “year and a day” from your date of separation to file for divorce can seem daunting without companionship and support. Therefore, you may have good reason to want to date.
The more tempered and reasoned answer to “Can I date after I separate?” is yes, BUT, it’s best to consider any legal consequences it could have on issues related to your separation, such as negotiating a separation agreement, spousal support (post separation support and alimony) or child custody.
- Spousal Support. The court can consider marital fault in a spousal support. Evidence that you are in a relationship with someone after you separate could be used to support that the relationship occurred prior to your separation. This can also apply to alienation of affection or criminal conversation tort claims.
- Child Custody. Although you may be ready for a new relationship, your children may not be. Remember, the life your children knew prior to your separation has changed drastically. They may not want to share your affection with another person or they may resent, be defensive or angry about your new relationship. They are just coming to accept that you and the other parent are no longer together, and that can take time for them to accept and process. This is a time to focus on providing as much stability, love and support as you can for your children. It’s best to be overly cautious when introducing someone new to your children. Be certain they hold your same values, and that they are stable and open and accepting of your children.
- Negotiations. Consider the consequences that dating someone may have on the negotiation process. It’s always best to try and come to an agreement with your spouse without court intervention whenever possible. If your spouse knows that you are in a new relationship, will they become defensive, hurt or angry? This could impede the settlement process.
Generally, if you’ve met someone for the first time AFTER you separated, it’s probably okay to date (but see above), and if your spouse is dating someone, it’s generally acceptable (but see above 🙂 ).
Talk with your family law attorney if you are considering dating after you separate. Be honest and upfront, and talk with them about your options and the possible consequences. And remember, a year in the grand scheme of things is a relatively short time. So patience may be your best option.
Meet the Author: Elizabeth Stephenson
Elizabeth has extensive experience in a range of different family law legal proceedings, including mediations, arbitrations, litigation, and appeals. She is the person you want by your side when you’re facing divorce, separation, child custody, property division, domestic violence, or any other family law issue. She understands the emotional upheaval and stress experienced by families facing separation and divorce. Using expert knowledge of North Carolina family law and 17 years of practice in the field, she is dedicated to providing steadfast support and guidance to each and every client.