June 17th, 2019

Dating During Separation

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Author: Julie B. Christopher

ILIT Family Sketch

It is not unusual to wonder when it is appropriate to begin dating during the separation and divorce process.  One of the most common questions family law attorneys are asked is the timing of beginning to date.   Dating can be fun and exciting, especially after the stress and tension of a failing marriage.  However, there are some important considerations when deciding whether to start dating during the separation and divorce process.

It Is Still Adultery

In Maryland, the legal definition of adultery is having sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse.  Both Maryland and Virginia continue to have adultery as grounds for divorce. Although it is rarely, if ever, prosecuted, adultery remains a misdemeanor in the State of Maryland, punishable by a $10 fine, and in the commonwealth of Virginia, adultery is still a Class 4 misdemeanor.  

Timing Matters

When you begin your relationship also matters. If you begin a relationship prior to your separation, it may be a factor for the court to consider in determining the cause of the breakdown of the marriage. On the other hand, if your start a relationship post separation, it is not considered a cause of the breakdown.

However, it whether your relationship begins before or after separation it is still considered adultery if your divorce is not yet finalized, and your spouse could still seek a divorce based on adultery.  When this occurs, your spouse also has the right to seek information about your romantic relationship and present the court with evidence of adultery.

This means that even though your romantic life has ended with your spouse, your private life and personal relationships may remain a relevant topic of inquiry by your spouse and/or the Court.  Depending on the tenor of your divorce proceedings, your spouse may try to make your romantic partner a witness in your case, which includes subpoenaing your romantic partner to come to court and testify as to nature and duration of the relationship.  Money spent on dating may be considered dissipation of marital funds. Questions about the nature and duration of the relationship, including whether you have spent any marital funds on him or her, are often unwelcome and stressful for the significant other and you. 

Custody

If you have minor children, it important to consult with your attorney before introducing a romantic partner to your children prior to the finalization for your divorce.  Whether and how you proceed can have a significant impact on your custody case and can significantly complicate it. In addition, it may be emotionally difficult for your children.  It is essential to understand the possible impact your actions may have on your case before making such decisions. When considering dating, you are best protected by partnering with a skilled family law attorney to help guide you in making child-focused decisions, which are in the best interests of your children and your case.      

Choosing to date can be a difficult decision while you are still in the midst of divorce proceedings. Thorny issues may arise.  Considering the timing and the potential impact on your divorce or custody case is important and best done with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney. 

Julie Christopher is a Principal in the Family Law department at Stein Sperling. She is passionate about helping people navigate challenging transformations in their family landscape. She focuses her legal practice on domestic issues including separation and divorce, complex custody suits, child support and alimony, modifications to existing agreements, property distribution and valuations, contempt and enforcement, and pre- and post-nuptial and separation agreements.