Dating During Divorce

January 23, 2014

A friend of mine asks, “Is it OK to start dating before my divorce is final?”  Well…

A significant percentage of my clients and friends going through a divorce start dating before it is final.  Everything you read on the subject says, “Don’t.”  There are, generally, three reasons for it being a bad idea:

1) Legal risk.  Most of the time, the judges don’t care whether someone is dating before the divorce is final.  Heck, they don’t even care if someone had an affair before the separation.  In short, they don’t want to hear about your broken heart;  they just want the kids taken care of and the property divided.  However, that doesn’t mean I tell my clients that it’s OK to date, because sometimes, seemingly randomly, judges do care.  Or your judge may not care, but the day of your hearing your judge is at a conference so you have a retired judge hearing your case, and he was born in 1933 and he does care, very much.  So an affair, even if it starts after you and your spouse have separated, could have a detrimental effect on your divorce, in terms of time with your children, child support, spousal support, and the property division.

And I can pretty much guarantee the judge will care if you are carrying on any sort of new relationship in front of your kids.  DO NOT introduce any new partners to your children during the divorce, don’t talk about new partners, and in general, keep your dating life completely away from your children.

“But we don’t have any kids under 18,” you say, “So that doesn’t matter to us.”  Do you have any community property?  Can your spouse argue that you’re spending it on dating?  There is a case pending here where the husband reportedly took his girlfriends on his private company jet to the Caymans on a regular basis.  He now has to account for the tens of thousands of dollars he spent on said girlfriends while the divorce was pending.  So there’s that – talk to your lawyer, and make sure there’s no chance of this coming back to bite you in the final divorce decree.

2) Emotional considerations.  Most experts agree that people are not ready to date or get involved with someone else until at least a year after the divorce is final.  Some say three years.  Of course this varies widely based on the length of the marriage, the reason for the breakup, and the mental health and self-awareness of the individual.  And this is definitely a case of “Do what I say, not what I do,” because I started dating too soon after my first marriage ended, and ended up getting divorced again.

I taught “Divorce Care” at my church last year, and I was amazed at the emotions that came up for me about my first divorce, 13 years later.  So any of us who think, “Oh, well, I’m fine, I can just shove that emotional garbage under the bed and not deal with it” are kidding ourselves.  There really is a rush of emotion that comes with the finality of the decree, and most people are not ready for it.  They think, “Oh, we’ve been separated a long time;  I’ve grieved; I’m over it.”  And maybe you are.  But it’s more likely that the day you walk out of the courthouse and you’re “free,” you will feel something – elation, pain, or something else.

3)  Religious and moral considerations.  Some people feel that it’s a sin to date or have sexual relations with anyone outside of marriage.  Some believe that in addition to the civil divorce, they have to get an annulment or a get before they get involved with someone else.  And that’s a valid and admirable position, if for no other reason than it helps them wait longer, and avoid the potential legal and emotional consequences of a too-early, “rebound” relationship.

So, if you ask your attorney or your counselor or religious advisor, “Should I start dating before my divorce is final?” chances are the answer you’re going to get is “no.”  Then if you conduct a poll of your friends on the subject, chances are most of them will admit, “Yes, I did.”  And some of them will say it was fine, and some of them will tell you a horror story about a bad rebound relationship, and some people will say they found The Most Wonderful Person in the World and are now deliriously happy.  In short, everyone says “Don’t do it,” and then everyone does it.

We are human, and have a basic human desire to be with other people.  And when you’ve just gone through a breakup, it can feel like you have a hole next to you, one exactly the size and shape of your former spouse.  So you try to fill it.  Chances are, if you’re successful, it will work out just about as well as your prior relationship did.  A much wiser choice is to wait.  Fill the hole with something else – friends, church, your kids, yourself.  Or leave it empty for a while, and see if it shrinks or goes away on its own.