Once you have come to terms with the fact that your marriage really is over, you may begin to think about starting fresh with a new relationship, or even just dating. For some people, moving on is a little easier than it is for others, and you can’t predict when you might meet the right person. It can even happen while you’re separated but still legally married.
In North Carolina, you must be legally separated for one year before you qualify to file for an absolute divorce. To be legally separated means that you no longer live under the same roof and at least one of you intends for that to be permanent. You may even have an official separation agreement drafted and executed, but unless you each permanently live at a separate address, you are not considered separated.
Once you legally separate, you are each free to date without any legal repercussions affecting your divorce, but using caution is still in order. Here’s why:
- Discovering that you were dating someone prior to separation can be grounds for your spouse to file an adultery claim. There is an enormous difference between dating before separation, and dating once you legally separate when you have shown an actual intent to divorce.
- The spouse committing adultery is not the only one at risk. A heart balm claim, also known as alienation of affection, may exist against the paramour if it can be proven that your relationship began prior to your separation and was the cause of your divorce. In other words, your significant other could be at risk of being sued by your spouse if there was already a budding relationship before you legally separated.
- Not actually living under separate roofs while stating to the court that you are is perpetrating a fraud on the court and can land you in trouble with the judge. Because the implication of doing this means that you are not separated by law, it can also give a spouse grounds to file an adultery claim. Some couples think that their divorce will be amicable, and for financial reasons may just agree to say they’re living apart when in fact, they aren’t. Maybe it’s giving a spouse time to save money to find his or her own place while getting a jump start on the one year separation requirement, or maybe it’s to make coparenting easier. No matter the reason, you are taking a big risk. You are divorcing for a reason and no matter how friendly you remain, a hurt spouse may not go along with the plan permanently.
- While isolated incidents of sexual relations with your spouse during separation won’t in and of themselves be enough to void your separation, regularly going back and forth between your spouse and another relationship can potentially do the trick, and you may wind up triggering an adultery claim at the same time. Spending the night regularly may lead to showing a pattern of intent to reignite the marriage. Engaging in this behavior can also lead to restarting the clock on your separation.
Adultery claims can significantly impact alimony awards. If you are the spouse receiving alimony and you have committed adultery, you run the risk of losing that financial support. If you are the spouse who committed adultery, you may wind up paying spousal support.
Additionally, while dating is acceptable during a legal separation, cohabitating with a significant other is not wise if you have children, and is actually still illegal in North Carolina and a small handful of other states. The court determines custody and visitation based on what is in the best interest of the child(ren). Part of this determination involves the environment in which the child lives, including other individuals the child is exposed to.
It can be difficult waiting to start over after you’ve chosen to end your marriage, but it may be your safest course of action. We understand the need to put an unpleasant relationship behind you, but you need to consider the potential added cost for moving on too quickly.
The knowledgable Charlotte family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC are here to advise you on how to avoid putting yourself into troublesome situations pending your divorce. To schedule a consultation in the Charlotte, Boone and Weddington areas, call 704-321-0031 or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.