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Dating While Separated

Couple Cheers Divorce presents many challenges. One of them is whether and when to begin a new relationship at the same time you are ending another. Dating while separated and going through divorce creates a variety of potential legal, practical and personal issues. How those issues are resolved depends upon each person's circumstances.

Legal Issues

Dating a potential new partner that simply involves to going out for a meal or to a show or other event is generally no problem from a legal standpoint. If the relationship progresses from a platonic one to a sexual one, things may become more complicated. Adultery, which remains a crime in some states, is not committed until sexual contact takes place. In states that allow fault-based divorce, adultery can provide sufficient grounds to end a marriage.

New Jersey law provides for no-fault and fault divorces. Adultery may be claimed as grounds in a fault-based action. However, even if adultery can be alleged, filing a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences is frequently preferable to an aggrieved spouse. No-fault divorces often conclude more quickly compared to divorces where specific fault is alleged. When specific fault serves as grounds for divorce, the other spouse must agree or the spouse claiming fault must prove it in trial.

Commission of adultery will generally not impact resolution of most divorce issues except in limited circumstances. New Jersey courts typically do not consider fault of a party when dividing property and debts, awarding alimony or setting child support. If, however, the spouse in the adulterous affair squanders community assets on the new partner and reduces the value of the marital estate available for distribution, a judge will likely take that into consideration when allocating the marital property between spouses and determining whether to award alimony.

Custody or visitation may be impacted if the new partner presents a potential danger to children. If you have children and are starting a new relationship, you need to have thorough knowledge of your new partner's background. Having a new partner whose history includes criminal behavior, domestic violence, mental health problems or drug or alcohol abuse may limit parenting time with your children and eliminate your chance of becoming the primary residential parent.

Alimony payments may be reduced if the recipient begins living with a new partner before or after the divorce is final since overall household income will change. Conversely, the person paying alimony can feel free to move in with someone since the payer's cohabitation that will not affect the amount of alimony being paid.

Practical Issues

Starting a new relationship may assist or hinder resolution of divorce issues. Going through divorce is emotional. People feeling hurt or abandoned frequently fight over small issues simply to get back at the other person. Constant battles over relatively minor issues increase both the time required and the cost to complete a divorce.

Finding new companionship often provides a needed distraction from the divorce. A desire to move on often replaces the desire to do battle. Issues that seemed important may no longer appear so critical. The promise of a new and enjoyable relationship can provide the impetus to resolve the divorce more quickly.

Conversely, declaring how happy your new partner makes you or bringing that person to court hearings may serve to antagonize your spouse who will then dig in even deeper to fight on every issue. If you begin a new relationship, avoid posting details of your dating life on social media. Jealousy can quickly lead to bitterness and a prolonged, expensive divorce.

Don't share e-mails from your attorney with your new partner. Attorney-client communications are privileged and cannot be revealed. However, if you share attorney communications with someone else, that protection can be lost, and your new partner could be forced to disclose critical information discussed between you and your lawyer.

If you are considering dating while separated, you should first discuss the matter with your spouse. Being honest and open with each other may be difficult at this stage, but it can help emphasize that the marriage is over and that it is acceptable for both to begin dating if desired.

Consider the effect on your children. How and what to tell them depends, in part, on their age. Children often tend to hold out hope that separated parents will reconcile. Seeing a parent with a new partner can create confusion and anger in a child if handled improperly. A child may believe one parent is trying to replace the other parent with someone new.

Children may be mature enough to understand why parents have separated and that a new relationship will not result in replacing a parent. In other cases, many professionals recommend that the best course of action is to exclude your new partner from time you spend with the children at least until the divorce is final.

Personal Issues

An attorney can provide advice on the legal and practical implications of dating while separated. Addressing personal issues requires self-examination only you can provide.

You must first accept that the marriage is over and not hold out hope for reconciliation. Beginning a new relationship without that acceptance is unfair to both you and your new partner. Be sure you are ready to begin a new relationship. There is nothing wrong with taking time to focus on yourself and your kids and to adjust to a major lifestyle change.

Be upfront with your date about your marriage status. It may feel awkward to mention you are separated, but concealing that fact until a later date may do more harm and threaten the new relationship. Honesty tends to be the best policy if you want a new relationship to work.

Seeking legal advice is a wise step before beginning to date while a divorce is pending. State laws differ, and an experienced family law attorney can help you consider how to deal with your specific circumstances without negatively impacting divorce issues. If you have any questions about dating while separated, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at 201-845-7400 for a free initial consultation.

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*Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances