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Feb 28, 2024

Infidelity and Dating after Divorce

Future Post-Divorce


Infidelity and Divorce

After living through my own divorce and helping thousands of people through theirs, I have learned many important lessons never taught in law school or in continuing legal studies.

One of these lessons is how difficult it is for us as human beings to understand and navigate through the emotional pain, fear, anxiety and anger that are a normal part of this life transition.

When I am dealing with clients as a divorce mediator, I do my best to help them stay focused on putting the painful past behind me and moving forward to better days ahead. I encourage my clients to work with me to settle their legal and financial matters while they work with a therapist to understand and navigate through their challenging emotions. Those who follow this advice seem to remain focused on making good legal and financial decisions. Those who don’t often struggle much more.

Those who struggle the most to manage their emotional challenges are often involved in situations when one person is in a relationship with a new partner before, during or even after divorce.

Does Cheating Affect the Financial Settlement?

Marital stress or boredom can lead to an extramarital relationship. In the beginning, each person feeds off the excitement and positivity of the new partner. Even in marriages that have a very low grade of happiness for both spouses, an “affair” can be like dumping gallons of gas on what is already a bonfire of emotions.

When one person is having an affair, the other may feel a just punishment, including a larger financial settlement. My job is to help them understand the law. This means telling them that there is very little impact under divorce law regarding marital affairs. The only place it is even referenced in the vast volumes of divorce law is under alimony law. It is one of 14 factors that may be a bar to receiving alimony; however, it is rarely considered.

Sometimes the guilt and shame will lead the “cheater” to give up more than they otherwise would have to. However, guilt can have a pretty short “shelf life”, so regret often follows. The ‘cheater’ may find it a struggle to keep a roof over their head and be tempted to head back into court litigation to address the problem.

What About the Children?

Beyond the money settlement, there is an even greater concern when there is an affair. Children of divorce are encouraged to disparage the cheating partner as the one who is responsible for breaking up their “happy” family. The offended partner can successfully transfer their pain to the child, so it becomes difficult for them to continue a loving relationship with their other parent. Parent alienation not only robs the child of a parent, it creates lifelong harm to a child’s well-being.

The bottom line is that extramarital affairs add a lot of fuel to the fire of divorce that can burn deeply and cause long-lasting harm.

Dating While Divorcing

When one spouse starts dating while the divorce is still pending, it creates a very volatile situation. Many times, one spouse wants out of the marriage and the other is being dragged through it without a choice. The person who wants the divorce is anxious to get on with their life so will often start hitting the dating sites before the divorce is concluded.

Avoid Creating a Bad Financial Situation

When working with these couples I often see how wounded people dig their heels in on financial matters just to slow things down in hopes that things will change or be motivated to seek revenge. As I have told many people over the years, “You can’t stop a divorce; you can only make it take longer and cost more”.

My recommendation is that you put off dating until the divorce is final if you can. If you can’t manage to do that, it is best to keep it very, very private while the divorce is pending. There is no need to add fuel to the fire if you can help it.

New Partner After Divorce

Finally, there is one more surprising anomaly that I have observed in my years of working with divorcing couples. After I have guided them through to a settlement and the divorce is final, you would think that dating would not cause a problem. However, out of the blue, I have received an angry email or phone call from a past client whom I thought was fully settled into their new life.

In most cases, the divorce was amicable, the settlement jointly decided and the children successfully co-parented. So it is assumed that the divorce flames are merely dying embers, but sometimes that is not the case. When one ex-spouse brings a new serious relationship into the mix, the fire begins raging again sometimes as hot or even hotter than it was before.

Reaction to New Partner Can Be Volatile

Sadly, in some cases, the new partner is threatened by the old one so intentionally disrupts the flow of the amicable post-divorce relationship. In other cases, the spouse who wanted out of the marriage does not want the other partner to move on. Or the prior spouse is threatened by the new partner, especially in regard to the children.

All these scenarios will often lead to people to want to renegotiate their financial terms and/or custody schedules. Of course, if they head into litigation, they will find lawyers willing and able to take their money to fight the fight. The good news is that clients who have worked through our mediation program trust our advice, so we are able to address their legitimate legal and financial concerns while directing them into counseling to address their emotional concerns.

It is always better to put off starting a new relationship until you have fully concluded your divorce. Even then, don’t be surprised if the flames of divorce flare up again when there is a new partner in the picture.