Dating during divorce
Oscar Wilde described second marriages as “a triumph of hope over experience”. That human optimism is certainly reflected in the numbers of ‘married, separated and soon to be divorced’ who launch themselves into a new relationship long before the ink is dry on their final Decree of Divorce.
As marriage is a formal status and divorcing has legal implications, dating during divorce can have an impact on how matters are dealt with on the breakdown of the marriage.
Impact on Court proceedings
Thankfully, the court is unimpressed with arguments about behaviour or conduct when considering either how disputes regarding children are resolved or how the financial matters should be finalised. Allegations that ‘dating’ should result in an adverse judgment are not supported by the court. However, it is, perhaps, worth considering what impact the new relationship may have on ongoing divorce proceedings.
If the new relationship starts very soon after the breakdown and before the divorce proceedings are started, this could lead to that new relationship being used as the ground for the divorce proceedings. If a spouse (even separated) engages in sexual relations with a person who is not their spouse, then legally that is committing adultery. In turn, this adultery might be used as a basis for divorce, even though that adultery after separation may not be the actual reason for the breakdown of the marriage. Under the current divorce law, it is necessary to prove one of five reasons for the marriage breakdown and it may be that adultery could be perceived as “as good as any”. The main consequence is that if a Divorce Petition is based on adultery then there is a risk of having to pay the costs of the person commencing the proceedings. Additionally, it can be frustrating if this is not the real cause of the breakdown.
Impact on financial settlements
If the new relationship quickly becomes serious and develops into a longer-term relationship, this could have an impact on how the family finances are resolved. If this leads to cohabitation, then there is a strong possibility that this will have consequences on how the family money is divided. The consideration of the division of money on divorce requires a consideration of “needs” as well as the available money and assets. So, if either the husband and/or the wife is in a cohabitation relationship, they may no longer have the same needs as they would have if they remained single. Cohabiting could result in a reduced entitlement to the family money. There is a strong possibility that starting to live with somebody whilst still married could mean faring worse in relation to the money aspects of the divorce.
Resolving the finances on divorce involves providing all your financial information to the other party. At that stage it is necessary to disclose the existence of a long-term cohabitation relationship or an “intended” cohabitation relationship. If this is not disclosed, then this can form a basis for any agreement or order made to conclude the financial matters, to be set aside. This would put everything back to square one with a need to start over in terms of looking at the finances afresh.
An important, but non-legal, impact could well be the reaction of the ‘still husband or wife’ to that new relationship. They may still be struggling to come to terms with the fact that their marriage has broken down and this could be made far worse if they are then faced with the new relationship. They say that “hell has no fury like a woman (or man) scorned” and a badly timed new relationship can cause anger and bitterness which leads to protracted proceedings and a lifetime of ill-feeling.
As far as the children are concerned there may be practical consequences of a parent’s new relationship. Many children find it difficult to adjust to the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. It can be hard for children to get used to one parent no longer living in the same household. If they then have to cope with the dynamic of additional new adults (mums and/or dads’ new partners) this can be overwhelming. A new relationship can be seen by a child as a further rejection and a sign that their parent has transferred affections to somebody other than them. This needs to be handled very delicately to ensure that the future is brighter for the children and is the best it can be given the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.
According to Greek legend, when Pandora opened the box letting out all the evils of the world, all that was left was hope. The start of new relationships is a sign that there is hope, a positive sign of moving forward. However, as fools rush in where angels fear to tread, it is always better not to be that fool but to consider the consequences of the “rushing in”. Hopefully, then, dating during divorce will prove to be a positive step.
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