The complexities of divorce apply both to the legal procedures involved and the effects the process can have on your personal life. Once couples have chosen to divorce, and initiated proceedings, many feel that they are now "newly single" and are ready to date other people. In fact, one or both parties may feel that the marriage has been over for a while, even if they are still legally tied to one another.
Dating during divorce can have significant impacts on the process, your assets, or even child custody arrangements assigned by the court. A highly experienced Missouri divorce attorney can inform you of the risks of dating during a divorce, as well as fight for your rights throughout the divorce process.
Effects of Dating on Your Divorce
Missouri is a no-fault divorce state. This means that there is no need to prove grounds for divorce, only that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" and "there is no likelihood that the marriage can be preserved." This also means that having an affair during the marriage, or dating while you are separated but not yet divorced, cannot affect your divorce agreement or subject you to financial punishment.
Most judges in Missouri will not consider the dating or sexual relationships of either party when making their decisions. However, there are certain areas of your divorce that can be affected by your choice to date while the divorce is pending.
If there are children from the marriage involved in the divorce, there is probably nothing more important to the parties than the child custody arrangement the court creates. Custody refers to physical and legal rights to a child and can include the following arrangements: joint custody, sole custody, physical custody (either sole or joint), legal custody (either sole or joint), and third-party custody. Missouri law requires courts to consider certain factors when determining child custody, but ultimately the judge must consider each factor in light of the child's best interest.
The person you are dating may now be the subject of court scrutiny. The effects that person may have on the children involved in the divorce become important. Missouri courts will consider the background of your new partner, including:
- Work history;
- Any criminal history;
- Any issues with drug or alcohol abuse;
- Your partner's financial assets;
- Your partner's family situation (i.e. married, children, etc.)
Another issue a judge may consider is the appearance of impropriety in your relationship, and how that affects your children. You should exercise great discretion in your new relationship around your children during the pendency of your divorce. Judges will consider the likelihood of confusing the minors involved, and the involvement of this new person in their lives.
If a judge finds for some reason that your new partner may negatively affect the lives of the children, your custody rights could be put in jeopardy.
Another significant component of your divorce proceeding is the possibility of support from your spouse after a divorce. Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance or alimony, is designed to maintain the standard of living of the dependent spouse. These payments are determined by the judge in your case, who bases his or her decision on statutory factors.
One of those factors is "the conduct of both spouses within the marriage" and "other relevant factors." A dating relationship while separated, but not yet divorced may be considered cheating by your spouse or even the judge. Although Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, even judges are human and this can affect their judgment.
Depending on the nature of the relationship with your new partner, it may also affect the other relevant factors which affect your ability to support yourself financially. If you live with your partner, you may be found to be supported in such a way which could limit your spousal support award. This may include your living arrangement or any financial support you receive from your new relationship.
It is important to consider the effect your relationship has on your ability to get spousal support. You should consult with an experienced Missouri divorce lawyer if you are considering dating while divorcing.
Division of Marital Assets
Like the majority of the states in this country, Missouri uses the equitable distribution system to divide marital assets between the parties. Generally, assets are divided equally, a 50-50 division. This division is subject to certain exceptions which consider the ultimate fairness of the division.
The judge may consider your extra-marital relationship, or other marital misconduct, in the context of whether marital assets were wasted as a result. If you spend money on your new relationship, especially if that expenditure occurred before you were at least separated, the court may consider this a misuse of marital property.
In any case, a dating relationship during divorce proceedings is cannon fodder the other side can use to argue that they are entitled to a higher than equal distribution. Your spouse can argue that money was spent on your new partner, or even attempt to show that you transferred marital assets to that new partner wrongfully in an attempt to give yourself a more than fair share.
Some Practical Thoughts
While it is easy to suggest you not enter into another relationship during your divorce, it may be easier said than done. Divorces can take a lot of time to complete depending on the circumstances. While it is certainly best to wait until the final divorce papers are signed and official, some practical thoughts may be instructive:
- If you are choosing to date another person during your divorce, exercise discretion around your children. Your judgment and choices will be at issue during the divorce proceeding. Avoid situations which might confuse your children or cause them emotional distress.
- Take care with any money you spend on your new relationship. Use of your money to buy gifts, dates, trips, etc. is likely money considered a marital asset, and this may affect your ultimate distribution.
- If you can, avoid dating during your divorce. If you choose to date, be open and honest with your divorce attorney about everything. Surprises are likely going to hurt your case, while even known problems can be dealt with by a skilled attorney.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Stay off Facebook or other social media.
Consult With an Attorney
If you are considering a divorce, and are in or considering being in a relationship, an experienced Missouri divorce attorney can help you understand the issues that may arise as well as defend you against allegations of impropriety. Our experienced team at the Joshua Wilson Law Firm is well equipped to help clients in Cass County, including Raymore, Harrisonville, Belton, and surrounding areas.
Contact the Joshua Wilson Law Firm today to schedule a consultation of your case.