The Truth about Dating before Your Divorce is Final

So, you've broken up with your partner. One of you probably moved out, or you're rarely in the same space if you're still living together. The divorce proceedings are underway. You're essentially already over and living separate lives. So, you can start dating, right?

Technically, yes, you can date other people. But there are a few scenarios to be aware of before you get romantic with someone new. Let's look at each one so you can determine if it might be best to wait until the divorce is final.

Dating before divorce: Your ex could use it against you

If you live in a no-fault divorce state, dating before your divorce is final may not harm your side (or give you significant leverage if your ex is the one in a new relationship). But in other states, it can carry a lot more weight in court. How so? 

Legal considerations

First, if the partner having an extramarital relationship is spending money on the relationship, you might make the case that community, or joint earnings, have gone to benefit the boyfriend/girlfriend. For instance, in states like California and Texas that have community property laws in place, the money you’re spending on another relationship belongs to both you and your spouse. Long story short, the spouse can ask for that money back, or it can become an issue during property division.

In states that recognize fault-based grounds for divorce, like North Carolina or Vermont, having an extramarital relationship can be regarded as adultery, and this could affect property division determinations, alimony, and even child custody. 

The second way you might suffer in court if you're in another relationship is if it leads the judge to question your credibility. This usually comes into question if you tried to hide the relationship or lied about it. Or, this extramarital relationship could be seen as a negative influence on your children or career. This might influence decisions on finances and parental rights.

Bottom line: Having a relationship outside of your marriage doesn't carry much weight in 90% of divorces. Do consider, though, if there are other ways your ex might use your new relationship against you (such as in your co-parenting arrangement, or emotionally). Proceed with caution, and avoid sharing more than you need to.

If you’re considering dating before your divorce is final, get some legal guidance first. This is not the time to be focusing on new romantic pursuits when there might be legal and financial implications. Once you get the green light, have fun. But if dating before your divorce is final could potentially harm you, it’s best to carefully consider your options before heading into the dating world.

You might decide to get back together

Is there any chance you might reconcile? Or is dating so soon going to have long-lasting negative effects on your relationship with your spouse? You need to decide if dating before your divorce is finalized is worth the harm it may cause between you and your ex. Even if you despise them now, if you will keep them in your life in any capacity (such as co-parenting), you need to consider their feelings.

Your kids might not be OK with it

While some children might feel indifferent or even positive toward you dating, most will at best be confused to see you with someone other than your co-parent. And at worst, some children will be devastated.

Right now, your kids are probably feeling confused and vulnerable. They might feel conflicted. They’re not sure what the future will be like. They may not even know where they’ll be living. Introducing new dating partners (or a new relationship) will only add to their stress and confusion. 

They’re feeling mixed emotions

Even if your children aren’t feeling one way or the other about your dating life, they’re still processing your divorce and feeling the instability of the situation. They may feel torn between you and your soon-to-be ex, and “liking” your dating partners will seem disloyal. 

They’re having a hard time adjusting

Introducing anyone to the mix right now will be a huge adjustment for a kid. If they see that new person as a replacement for their other parent, you may get some serious resentment and opposition as a result. 

It’s a major disruption to their routines

Bringing someone new into your life can disrupt a child’s well-established routines. Right now, these are important for their sense of security.

It can impact your relationship with them

Dividing your time between your kids and a new dating partner can leave them feeling neglected and second in line for your attention. That could invariably strain your relationship. 

Make sure you’re setting the right example

Kids understand relationship dynamics by watching their parents. Introducing a new relationship during this time could shape their perceptions of stability, commitment, and intimacy when they already have difficulty processing everything in their life.

If you really want to date someone before your divorce is finalized, it's best to be honest with your child(ren) about it so you know how they feel about it. Wait until the right time to talk about it, and only share age-appropriate information. Prioritize your kids’ needs and make sure they know they are your priority. 

Others may perceive it as cheating

Is public perception a concern? Besides idle gossip, how you conduct your personal life can impact your career. If your personal reputation is something that could be leveraged against you, seriously consider how dating might come across before you go public with a new relationship (or risk it coming out).

Assessing your emotional readiness

Granted, you’ve been unhappy. Divorce is stressful, and you’re ready to move on. But before you jump immediately into the dating arena, you might want to pause and consider if you’re ready in every sense of the word – this includes your emotional readiness.

  • Have you given yourself time to process the end of your marriage? Have you considered what went wrong and how you’ll ensure it won’t happen again? Have you taken ownership of your part, or are you stuck in blame? Dating again with all this unresolved baggage might not be a good idea.
  • How are you feeling? Are you feeling independent, strong, and ready to move on, or are you looking for someone to fill an emotional hole? The ideal is to feel self-sufficient and good about yourself before you begin to look for another relationship.
  • What motivates you to want another person in your life so soon? Are you rebounding? Trying to make your ex jealous or prove your worth? Make sure you’re coming from a healthy place so you don’t make new mistakes.
  • What are you looking for in the dating world? Have you set realistic dating expectations?
  • Are you ready to make commitments right now? Investing in dating relationships usually requires some form of commitment if you’re going to be fair to dating partners. How much are you willing to commit after coming off a long-term relationship?

Furthermore, have you considered all the possible repercussions that dating could have between you and your soon-to-be ex? Could it lead to more stress and contentiousness during the divorce? Can you foresee added emotional conflict between you at a time when things are already stressful enough? 

Taking some added time to get clarity and fully heal may be better for your divorce as well as your future dating relationships. 

Juggling co-parenting, dating, and divorce

If you have kids, you are going to have an ongoing co-parenting relationship with your ex for a very long time. Starting it on a good foot should be an important first step, but if you’re dating before your divorce is final, it could potentially complicate that. How can you manage this delicate balancing act?

When you meet with your co-parent, choose an appropriate time and setting well out of earshot of the children. Be clear that you want to maintain a healthy and happy co-parenting relationship with them for the benefit of your children, despite any personal challenges you might be facing now. Be considerate and honest without blame or judgment. 

While you’ll want to approach the subject of dating sensitively, you’ll need to discuss and agree on what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of introducing new partners to your children. Furthermore, you’ll want to discuss how and when any new future relationships will be integrated into their lives so you both have the same expectations of each other. 

Bottom line: You will want to reinforce that your priority is to your children and assure your co-parent that your dating life won’t negatively impact your responsibilities to your kids and their well-being. Agree that if either of you see your kids struggling with any new partner, you will discuss it as a team and, if necessary, seek professional resources and guidance such as therapy or other counseling to support them through the process. 

Suggested: Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce

Truth is ...

The single most important deciding factor here is your own gut feeling. If dating right now feels good and makes you happy, trust that. Just like there are a lot of outside opinions and decisions happening regarding your divorce that you can't control, when and why you date someone new is your call. You will never be able to please everyone. If dating seems to work well for you, simply try to proceed with kindness, humility, and respect to minimize possible hurt feelings. You deserve a happy, healthy relationship – sometimes the timing isn't ideal. Trust yourself.

Final thoughts

Empowerment and moving forward

Trusting your personal judgment can feel empowering after years of having to consider someone else’s feelings and opinions. But don’t get carried away. Acknowledge past mistakes and balance emotion with logic. It’s been a long time since you’ve dated, and it may be easy to get swept up in something too soon. 

Kindness and respect

If you’re returning to the dating world during your divorce, it will require careful consideration, kindness, and respect, not only for your soon-to-be-ex and children but also for any future dating partners. 

Be mindful of your ex’s feelings. Even if your relationship has ended, how you approach this time can prevent a lot of unnecessary hurt and conflict. Be cautious about introducing your children to new people, and watch for any negative responses. And consider that any new dating partners may feel awkward and confused being introduced into your ongoing divorce. 

Affirmation of deserving love

You deserve to find love and a fulfilling relationship after your divorce. Take it slow, be kind to yourself, and give yourself plenty of time to heal. The stronger and more self-fulfilled you become, the better your chances of finding healthy and happy relationships going forward.

Head of Content
Communication, Relationships, Personal Growth, Mental Health
As Hello Divorce's Head of Content, Katie is dedicated to breaking down the stress and mess of divorce into clear, helpful content that delivers hope rather than fear. Katie most often writes about the emotional toll of divorce, self-care and mindfulness, and effective communication. Katie has 20+ years of experience in content development and management, specializing in compelling consumer-facing content that helps people live better lives. She has a Master's in Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin. Katie lives in Texas with her husband and two adorable cats, and you can find her hiking and bird watching in her free time.