One of the most frequent questions people want to know about divorce is: “When is it okay to start dating again?”
What does it mean to be legally separated in North Carolina?
First, in North Carolina, a legal separation means that both parties are physically separated from one another and are no longer living in the same residence, with at least one party having the intent to divorce. You must be physically separated at least a year and a day before you can file for divorce for an absolute divorce in North Carolina. The clock starts on the date the spouses move to separate residences. There is no formal document required in order to start the separation process, if the parties agree to obtain their own separate residences.
Often clients will ask if it is considered a “legal” separation when they are sleeping in separate bedrooms in the same house, discontinue a sexual relationship, or live in separate parts of the same house (e.g. the basement). The short answer is no — these individuals would not be considered to be legally separated. Both parties must live in separate residences in order to be physically separated in North Carolina. The intent aspect of separation and divorce is at least one party’s desire to end the marital union and communicating that to your spouse.
When can I start dating?
You may start dating someone after you physically separate from your spouse. There is no requisite waiting period in order to start dating after separation. Often many people choose to start dating right away after they separate and before a final divorce is granted. However, there may be significant consequences of doing so, especially if your divorce involves child custody, post-separation support, and/or alimony.
How will dating impact my divorce proceedings? What are the risks of dating before my divorce is finalized?
First, if your spouse is seeking post-separation support or alimony, dating right away may impact those claims if your spouse can show a connection between your “new” relationship and your pre-separation acts. In other words, be careful and consult your divorce attorney about dating someone you may have known prior to separating. Your spouse may suspect that adultery has taken place and try to prove that a relationship took place prior to separation, or that your new relationship led to the break-up of your marriage. Your spouse may hire a private investigator to investigate further. A judge could look at the behavior as some evidence or proof that an affair occurred before the date of separation. Moreover, you may also subject your dating partner to a potential lawsuit. In either event, dating or moving in with someone soon after separation can significantly impact an alimony case and can cause problems, thwarting an otherwise amicable and swift resolution of your case. If you have questions about these matters, please consult with your divorce attorney before proceeding in unsafe territory. Additionally, cohabiting with a romantic partner terminates alimony in North Carolina. If you are a dependent spouse seeking spousal support, please talk to your attorney about this issue.
Second, if you are involved in a child custody proceeding in court, dating someone right away after separation could significantly impact your child custody and visitation case. For example, if the person you are dating has a criminal record or has a history of domestic violence, a judge could find that it is not in your child’s best interest to be around that individual and award your spouse primary custody of your child. In other words, if you start dating after separation, be sure you really know the person and his or her background before introducing that person to your child, as this could significantly impact your child custody case. And yes, your spouse has a right to know who your child will be around in terms of romantic partners. It is not a fair assumption to think whoever you date is your business when children are involved. In fact, judges often require parties to provide basic information about their dating partners to an ex-spouse for the sake of the child’s well-being and safety.
Advice/tips about dating after separation:
- First, give yourself time to grieve over the loss of your marriage. Divorce is difficult for anyone and is a very emotional process. Seek counseling if needed.
- Be sure to consult your divorce attorney before proceeding into areas like dating and/or cohabiting with another person post-separation.
- Be sure your children are getting the proper emotional support before introducing someone new into their lives.
- A good rule of thumb, particularly in child custody cases, is to wait at least a few months before introducing your children to a new partner and make sure you know the person well.
- It is not advisable to move in with a new dating partner right away, particularly when child custody has not been decided or if you need spousal support.
- Be sure the person you are dating is not married and going through their own nasty divorce case.
- Seek out support from family and friends during this difficult time.
- Most importantly, be mindful and careful about what you post on social media (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) Posting fun photos to make your ex jealous can certainly backfire in a court of law.