Are you in the process of obtaining a divorce and thinking it would be nice to spend time with someone who can fill your need for affection and companionship? After all, you and your spouse are living separate and apart. The divorce is proceeding at a snail’s pace, and friends are encouraging you to “dip your toe” in the dating pool. Although they mean well, perhaps better advice might be to spend a little more time relaxing poolside. While many spouses start dating during separation, it is not recommended. In Tennessee, you are considered married until the judge approves the final divorce decree. Dating while separated can have consequences which can be harmful to your case. Being separated is not the same as being single.
Under Tennessee divorce law, having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse prior to divorce, but after separation is still adultery. Although not a crime, adultery is considered grounds for divorce in Tennessee. Until the marriage is dissolved, dating represents infidelity and that is not a good thing. You may not be looking for someone to date, but life being what it is, casual relationships can evolve into passionate ones. Even if there is no sex involved and the relationship doesn’t rise to the level of adultery, dating can still be considered marital misconduct. Life happens, but let it happen after your divorce is final. In Tennessee, separation is still marriage until the final divorce decree has been signed.
Dating while separated can complicate the divorce process. Perception can often be as problematic as reality. Even though it may not be the case, a court could perceive that this type of conduct was going on prior to the separation and might even have contributed to the breakdown of the marriage. Be aware of appearances and perceived wrongdoing. If the court perceives marital misconduct has occurred, it could have an impact on alimony and child support negotiations, especially in cases where one spouse is cohabiting with someone. In that scenario, the court might consider the lover’s financial contribution to the household when determining alimony and child support amounts. Dating can also influence child custody arrangements and who the decision-making parent might be going forward.
Dating can result in allegations being made that this activity has resulted in a dissipation of marital assets. Anything spent from any source other than separate funds can be viewed as a wasting of marital assets and could result in the non-dating spouse receiving additional property as part of a divorce settlement. Such perceived dissipation could include money spent for vacations, weekend getaways, romantic dinners, gifts, etc. incurred as a consequence of dating.
Remember, even an emotional relationship with no overt sexual implications may still be viewed as inappropriate marital conduct. The best course of action? Delay dating until after the divorce has been completed and the final decree signed.
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Cheryl Godwin is NOT AN ATTORNEY AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. All information she provides is financial in nature and should not be construed or relied upon as legal or tax advice. Individuals seeking legal or tax advice should solicit the counsel of competent legal or tax professionals knowledgeable about the divorce laws in their own geographical areas. Divorce financial planning is a fee-only process that does not involve investment advice or securities or insurance transactions.