You Have Kids. Should You Date Before Finalizing Your Divorce?

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You’re getting divorced, and it’s the first time you’ve been single in years. You’re thinking about starting to date but are wondering whether this is a good idea or not. You anticipate your divorce taking a while, and worry about putting your dating life on hold for months, even years. So how do you decide if now’s the right time to dip your toe in the dating pool?

Generally, I don’t recommend my clients start dating until they’re officially divorced. As a family lawyer, I’ve seen how detrimental dating too soon can be for everyone involved — both spouses, the children, even the new love interest. Here’s why.

You’re not emotionally ready to date.

Leaving a marriage is one of the most emotionally charged transitions you can experience during your lifetime. Even if your divorce is an amicable one, you’re about to undergo a lot of change. That may include moving from the marital home, going back to work, and adjusting your standard of living based on what your finances will look like post-divorce. It’s all very stressful and can be a lot to handle at once.

Adding a love interest to your life can bring with it a whirlwind of excitement. What dating can also bring is disruption, particularly if things don’t work out between you and someone you like. Because your separation is when you need to stay keenly focused on your proceedings and plan for a new, stable future, you might want to press the pause button on dating for now.

The other consideration is how your instability will impact someone you’re dating. Because you may still be a mess emotionally, there’s a good chance you will bring turmoil to an innocent party who may very well be ready for a serious relationship, which, likely, you’re not, even if you think you are.

The laws of your state don’t favor dating during a divorce.

In general, states that are no-fault states like Washington generally do not hold infidelity against the offending party. That said, there are nuances to this, and even in no-fault states where adultery “doesn’t count,” perception can count for a lot.

Many people are watching. Onlookers may include a parenting coordinator, mediator, judge, and whoever else is making decisions in your divorce. It’s always better for the powers that be to look at you in a favorable light, so it’s probably best not to provide ammunition to someone who might want otherwise for you, which brings me to my next consideration.

Your soon-to-be-ex is against you dating before finalizing your divorce.

Particularly if you have a spouse who’s not happy about the divorce and even more unhappy about the idea of you dating, you might want to hold off for a bit until things calm down. You don’t want that aggrieved spouse of yours to use your dating life against you.

It may feel like it’s over to you. But until you’ve both signed on the dotted line that it is over, you’re legally still married. An angry ex will hold onto that fact with a vengeance. You don’t need your ex spitting into your coffee. Or worse.

You have children who may not be ready to see their divorcing parents date someone new.

Even if you’re ready to date, your children, even teens, may not be mentally and emotionally prepared to see Mom or Dad out and about with someone who’s not their parent. The wounds are still fresh and may be open for a long time to come.

If you do decide to date, be discreet. The best thing you can do for your kids during a divorce is to keep their environment as stable and familiar as possible. That means not introducing children to romantic interests before they’ve dealt with their feelings about your divorce, preferably with the help of a mental health professional, like a therapist.

Also, because of the fickle nature of modern-day dating, you want to be sure the person you do end up introducing your children to will be around for a long time to come. It can be equally upsetting for children to become attached to a new “friend,” only to have them disappear from their lives one day without warning.

You haven’t resolved your finances for your divorce yet.

Depending on where you are in the divorce process, you may not have yet worked out your finances. Dating costs money. Depending on how much money you’re devoting to going out or to a particular person, your ex and the court could hold your use of marital funds for dating against you.

Additionally, if you spend enough time with a romantic interest, perhaps cohabitate with them, that could impact how much money you will receive or have to pay for both spousal maintenance (alimony) and child support. If that relationship doesn’t end up working out, you could suffer financially long after it’s over.

Here’s when it may be OK to date during a divorce.

If you and your ex are both in a “good” place after your split, and you each agree that it’s OK to date before finalizing your divorce, you’re probably as well off as you will be at this point to give dating a go. That said, in any divorce, emotions can change quickly, so the above caveats still stand.

For parents, even if you and your ex are OK with dating others, your children will likely not be for a long time to come. As a family lawyer and once-divorced mom who’s now remarried with stepchildren, I can’t stress enough the value of taking this tumultuous time to care for yourself and your children. Doing so will put you in a much stronger position when the dust finally settles.

A few concluding thoughts.

Whatever you ultimately choose to do, begin to date or wait it out, know that this period of turmoil won’t last forever. The divorce process will eventually end, and your new, single life will begin, filled with opportunities to welcome someone special into your life who you care for and who cares for you — and your children.

In my experience, better things do come to those who wait.

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