For the newly single the thought of “starting again” in a new relationship can be a very daunting one, and we often find ourselves being asked about the dos and don’ts of dating, or starting new relationships, whilst we are still helping clients through their divorce or separation. Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all advice, and many would question the wisdom of divorce lawyers dispensing dating tips, but as it is something we are often asked about, we thought a few general pointers might help.
For those who feel ready, dating while going through divorce can help you cope with loneliness, a need for comfort, and low self-esteem. However, as separation can be a very sensitive time, discretion is often a good idea. Although technically there are few legal reasons why you shouldn’t date, we often find that new relationships can act as emotional flashpoints during the divorce process which can throw boulders into the path of smooth progress to getting financial and children arrangements sorted out. There is little to be gained from announcing to the world that you are dating while matters are not yet settled. The fact of a new relationship’s existence can be very provocative and it is not unknown for negotiations that have been going well to be derailed by the discovery of one spouse’s romantic liaisons.
You need to be aware that a new relationship can give your spouse a ground for divorce which might not have otherwise been available. As we mentioned in our blog on divorce myths, a sexual relationship with someone other than your husband/wife is still adultery even if you have technically separated.
It is an unfortunate truth that in this technological age, suspicious or jealous spouses or other family members can (and do) hack, bug and snoop into computers, phones and emails, looking for evidence of a new relationship. (And don’t get us started on the dangers of facebook!) The information might be useful for them emotionally, perhaps to prove that infidelity was the real cause of a relationship ending, or they may be looking perhaps to find out information about spending. Sensible precautions with regards to electronic privacy are to be recommended. There are rules on what sort of information obtained through dubious means lawyers can see, so if in doubt, speak to us about this, and be aware that if you do go snooping on a partner or former partner, it may come back to haunt you.
If you have children, it is always difficult to know what and when to tell them about a new relationship. Different children will react differently, and a lot will depend upon their age and degree of maturity. You will know your children best of all, but it is important not to underestimate the effect of a separation on them, and the time it will take them to work things through in their mind. Any proposed introductions of a new partner must be handled sensitively.
If your spouse is supportive and you have managed to maintain good lines of communication with them, it can be helpful to discuss how to handle introducing new partners to the children before any new partners arrive on the scene! This isn’t always feasible; but if the children are unsettled, angry, nervous or upset by the separation, then it may be better left for a bit. If you are in any doubt about how your children will react to meeting your new partner, then it’s probably better to delay a new introduction for a while.
Working together with your ex-spouse as co-parents is something you will have to do for many years to come. Counselling for both of you, together or separately, can be a great help to navigate the potential minefield of new relationships and their impact on the children, or you could work out some ground rules together with the assistance of a family mediator. Many people find that it becomes easier to talk constructively when there’s an impartial third party in the room.
We would also suggest that it is only worth risking the fall-out from introducing a new partner to your children when you are sure the relationship will last. Obviously it is impossible to be 100% certain about the future of relationships, but it is worth avoiding multiple repetitions of the tricky exercise of introducing a new partner to your children. Children can be unsettled by repeated introductions their parents’ girlfriends or boyfriends, whom they may consider to be their potential step-parents.
Serious new relationships can also impact upon financial negotiations and settlements. During the proceedings you will be asked about your intentions with regard to cohabiting or remarrying. You must answer honestly, and if you do intend to set up home with your new partner, their financial situation will become relevant to your case. Even if you are living under a separate roof from your new partner, if you share each other’s households this could be construed as living together, which could affect the way the court looks at what you need financially for the future. If in doubt, have a word with us about it.
Likewise it is not a good idea to mix finances with your new partner whilst you are sorting out your divorce. It’s best to keep everything separate until the dust has settled.
For many people, divorce is about one door closing and a lot of other doors opening up. It is possible to achieve real happiness by finding a new partner after divorce, and we’ve seen this happen many times. It’s just wise to have an idea of the pros and cons of doing so before the divorce is final, so that you’re fully informed of what the consequences might be. It needn’t stop you having fun, and we really hope you do!