Sooner or later, the overwhelming majority of my divorce clients ask me some version of this question: “Is it OK if I start dating?” Interestingly enough, many of them ask me this question when they have already begun dating because they are looking for someone to approve of what they are doing.
I reassure them immediately that California is a no-fault divorce state, which means as long as there are “irreconcilable differences,” one can get divorced in our state. I also add that unless they are performing wild sex acts hanging from the chandelier in front of their children, the judge is not going to care.
Dating — especially seriously — before your divorce is final can be huge, both economically and — more importantly — in terms of your children. Even if you are legally separated, your spouse was the one who initiated the divorce or he was cheating on you, the knowledge that you’ve moved on or found someone new, and better, can dramatically change the emotional dynamics and turn what was once a relatively amicable split into an ugly, protracted battle.
In a perfect world (you know the fairy tale one our mothers might have led us to believe existed), the best legal advice is to wait to date until the ink is dry on your divorce papers so you don’t upset the apple cart. In the real world, we all want to, and need to, move on. In fact, I tell clients all the time that divorce is not the same as being diagnosed with an incurable disease. After being married a long time to a frog, it can be revitalizing to find love again — and new sex is not so bad, either!
For those of you about to dip your big toe into the dating pool or jump right in from the high dive, here are some do’s and don’ts of dating while divorcing.
Dating do’s during a divorce
Do go slow.
Refrain from dating until you have physically separated, and you and your children have stabilized. It gets somewhat messy when your date picks you up at home while your kids and ex are having dinner. If you wait until the dust has somewhat settled, it increases the chances of having a healthier next relationship. No date wants to hear your tale of woe about your ex over candlelight and red wine. In fact, save the complaining for your divorce attorney who is being paid to listen to your concerns.
When you are truly ready, get your feet wet in the singles scene by socializing in group settings (e.g., professional events, sports leagues, classes on wine tasting, foreign languages, movies or other areas of interest to you) rather than one-on-one dates. If you meet someone you like, be honest about your situation and the need to go slow and keep things low-key.
Your children should not meet your date until you believe there is a good probability that he is a “keeper.” Children are emotionally fragile when their parents divorce, so you should do everything possible to avoid causing them more pain by exposing them prematurely to a new mate.
Do practice discretion.
Although you may feel like getting on social media and showing off your new guy, it’s best to keep him under wraps. Flaunting him in front of your ex can spark feelings of jealousy, anger or embarrassment. In other words, you don’t want to cause your ex a narcissistic wound. I’ve seen these feelings escalate to the point that a divorcing spouse, either consciously or subconsciously, tries to soothe his pain with a knock-down, drag-out fight over assets, spousal or child support, or custody of children.
I hate to recommend that you use your feminine wiles, but use your feminine wiles by keeping a low profile and having your ex feeling sorry for you because you’re at home watching Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce instead of angry about your new, incredibly delicious man.
Do exercise extra caution in how you find your dates as well as who you date.
While it’s become the norm today to “meet” on Tinder, Match and other online dating sites, be careful what you post on these sites, especially if you have kids. First, dating sites, like sites such as Facebook, can be a hot bed of juicy evidence that your spouse can use against you in court. I was involved in a custody case where the wife posted an innocent photo of herself and her two children, and the husband’s attorney introduced it into evidence to show that the wife exercised bad parental judgment by posting a photograph of the children on a dating site. Second, you don’t want to risk your husband getting triggered by seeing your online profile.
Instead, consider dating the old-fashioned way and date people you meet through real-world connections like work, family, friends, hobbies and place of worship. You’ll have more and hopefully accurate information of who they are as opposed to their often fantasy-filled online profile. You are in a particularly vulnerable place and should optimize your odds that the person you date is solid and responsible.
Recognize that a person with whom you establish a relationship may become involuntarily entangled in the divorce proceedings, especially if your spouse is vindictive and would enjoy taking a deposition of your new mate to watch him squirm while being videotaped. The bottom line: Their issues (e.g., drug/alcohol abuse, criminal history) can reflect on you. So tread lightly and select with care. This is especially true if you have children and custody matters are being decided.
Do think twice about moving in together.
Let’s say that despite my and your attorney’s good advice, you think you’ve found Mr. Right and want to start living together. Consider that this may impact the level of spousal or child support you receive in your divorce settlement since you are now sharing living expenses with someone. Take a long-range view and don’t risk your financial future on a relationship that may turn out not to have a future. Also, living with Mr. Right can impact custody issues depending on who he is.
Dating don’ts during divorce
Don’t put it in writing.
If you don’t want something read in open court, avoid writing it to the person or people you are seeing — that means email, text (especially sexting) or paper. A physical or digital paper trail can be used as evidence to question the propriety of the relationship and other issues that can have a bearing on property, support or child custody decisions.
Don’t be seen having too much fun.
Being discreet about your dating extends to social media. Posting photos or videos of you and your date out at clubs, wining and dining, or vacationing can have consequences. If you have children, these posts can be used to question the amount of time you are spending away from them — and in some cases, your parental fitness. They can also raise questions about how you are spending your money and about your lifestyle.
Don’t make big decisions about a new relationship.
The harsh reality is that the first relationship (also known as the rebound relationship) that people have after separation may have little chance of becoming long-term or leading to marriage, especially if you are still hurting from the demise of your relationship with your ex. While you’re going through the stress and uncertainty of divorce, the attention and affection your potential new boyfriend shows you can raise your self-esteem and provide a welcome distraction from your problems.
In fairness to yourself and the other person, you should wait to start your next serious relationship until you’ve identified and sorted out the issues that caused your marriage to end, resolved the issues in your divorce, spent some time on your own and feel that you are truly healed. On the other hand, a girl just has to have fun, so go out with friends, both female and male, and have a blast. A very cold and dirty martini (Las Vegas Style) never hurt anyone!