Is it okay to date other people while separated from your spouse in SC?
Although many people believe that they are free to start dating other people once they are separated, that’s not exactly true. If you are dating someone other than your spouse before your divorce is finalized, you are committing adultery and that could affect your divorce by:
- Creating a fault-based ground for divorce,
- Preventing you from receiving alimony,
- Reducing your share of marital property, or
- Making it less likely that you will be given custody of your children.
Many people want to start dating as soon as possible, so it is a common issue. Below, we will take a look at the rules for when it is okay to date other people while separated and what could happen if you do not follow the rules.
Why It is Not Okay to Date Other People While Separated in SC
In general, you should not date other people while separated. Although there are specific situations where it is okay (see below), many attorneys will simply tell their clients, “No. Do not date.”
Because it is considered adultery, and adultery can have severe consequences in your divorce case.
Adultery is a Fault-Based Ground for Divorce in SC
Adultery is one of five fault-based grounds for divorce in SC. If you are dating other people before your divorce is final, your spouse could file an action for divorce on the grounds of adultery (or amend their divorce petition to add adultery as a ground), which could affect your chances of collecting alimony, the division of marital property, and child custody decisions.
Adultery is a Complete Bar to Alimony in SC
SC Code Section 20-3-130 (C)(10) says that, “In making an award of alimony or separate maintenance and support, the court must consider and give weight” to “marital misconduct or fault of either or both parties, whether or not used as a basis for a divorce or separate maintenance decree if the misconduct affects or has affected the economic circumstances of the parties, or contributed to the breakup of the marriage…”
“Marital misconduct” includes adultery. If you expect to pay alimony, the court may order you to pay more alimony because you are dating other people while separated. On the other hand, you will not receive any alimony if adultery is proven, whether it is claimed as a ground for divorce or not.
Adultery can Affect the Division of Marital Property
SC Code Section 20-3-620 (B)(2) also lists “marital misconduct” as a factor that the court should consider when dividing marital property, “if the misconduct affects or has affected the economic circumstances of the parties, or contributed to the breakup of the marriage.”
Although adultery committed while separated may not have “affected the economic circumstances of the parties or contributed to the breakup of the marriage,” you may be taking a significant risk by dating before your divorce is final.
Adultery can Affect the Court’s Child Custody Decisions
The family court’s primary concern in child custody decisions is always the best interests of the child.
A new romantic interest can certainly affect the court’s decisions as to child custody, and the details of your dating habits will be scrutinized by the court, including:
- Does your new partner live with you or stay overnight?
- Is your child exposed to your new partner?
- Are you exposing your child to multiple new partners?
- Does your new partner drink, use drugs, or engage in illegal activities?
- Does your new partner disparage your former spouse in front of the child?
Even if you choose to date other people while separated because you fall into one of the categories below, you should proceed with extreme caution – choose your new partner carefully, do not expose the child to your new partner until your divorce is final and your new relationship is stable, and do not have overnight guests when your child is at home.
When It is Okay to Date Other People While Separated in SC
Despite all the pitfalls discussed above, SC law also says that dating other people while separated will not affect alimony or the division of marital property if it happens after:
- “The formal signing of a written property or marital settlement agreement,” or
- “Entry of a permanent order of separate maintenance and support or of a permanent order approving a property or marital settlement agreement between the parties.”
Once a formal settlement agreement has been signed by both parties or the court has entered a permanent order of separate support and maintenance, you can date other people while separated, and it will not affect alimony or division of marital property, but it can still have an affect on child custody.
What’s the answer?
Don’t date before your divorce is final. If you do date other people after you have signed a settlement agreement, make sure that you consult with your attorney on the Axelrod team and take care that your new partner does not affect your chances at getting custody of your children.
If you are considering separation or divorce, or if you have questions about when you can date while separated, call your SC divorce attorney at Axelrod and Associates now at 843-353-3449 or send us a message through our website to find out how we can help.