A common question that often asked during consultations and discussions between attorneys and potential or current clients is: Can I date during my divorce case? The answer depends on the specific facts of your case. Factors to consider include: Are you separated; how long have you been separated; are there minor children affected by dating; have martial funds been used to support the new relationship; and, probably most importantly, when did you start seeing this new person?
Every separated couple has differing opinions about introducing a new significant other or romantic interest when minor children are involved. Courts rarely want to be involved in issues of parental relationships unless the relationship would be detrimental to parenting the child. Separated and divorced parents should keep in mind that making a new relationship a priority over a minor child could be detrimental in determining parental fitness in a child custody action.
In North Carolina, income generated during a marriage is considered marital and subject to being divided between spouses. When these funds support a new relationship, the party using these funds could be required to reimburse their former spouse their martial portion of the funds spent. Often, the amount of money spent on the legal determination that marital funds supported the relationship will exceed the amount of money spent on the relationship.
The most important issue to evaluate is when you started seeing this new person. Committing adultery in North Carolina is just one factor considered in spousal support and claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation. Your former spouse can file a claim for fault-based divorce if they believe that the new relationship began prior to the date of separation. The North Carolina Court of Appeals in Pharr v. Beck, 554 S.E.2d 851, 854 (N.C. App. 2001), held that conduct occurring after the date of separation could be used to prove claims of pre-separation activities as they relate to a claim for alienation of affection. In 2009, the North Carolina General Assembly limited actions giving rise to a claim of alienation of affection or criminal conversation to actions that occur before the date of separation. The North Carolina Court of Appeals in Rodriguez v. Lemus, 810 S.E.2d 1, 5 (N.C. App, 2018), held that post-separation conduct may be used as evidence to corroborate evidence of pre-separation conduct for claims of criminal conversation and alienation of affection as long as the pre-separation evidence of conduct is more than mere conjecture.
While you are not prevented from dating once you are legally separated with the intent not to remain married, you should take special care to protect yourself by not using marital funds or making statements via email, texts, and especially social media that cause the other spouse to believe that any relationship started prior to the date of marriage. The newly dating parent should consider all effects that a new dating partner could have on their children during the adjustment to being a two-home family. If you are unsure of your next steps or have questions specific to your current situation, a qualified local family law attorney can help you answer these questions.