Thanks to Drake, we all know that can only mean one thing.
So what happens when your hotline bling(s), and you’re in the midst of or even about to be in the midst of a divorce?
By the time they are thinking about a divorce or going through the divorce process, many clients have moved on and are ready to get out there and see other people. And many of them are wondering how that could impact their divorce. Here’s what I tell them:
Legally speaking, the fact that you’ve started dating other people generally means nothing. With two caveats, the Court doesn’t care about your personal escapades – and that includes your dating life. But the two caveats are important ones:
1) Dissipation of Marital Assets: Don’t spend your soon-to-be ex’s money on your new fling or significant other. If you are spending money on hotel rooms, lavish presents, lingerie and so forth on your new significant other(s) that rightfully belongs to your ex, then that will have an impact on the financial outcome of your divorce. Specifically, your ex will be entitled to a credit for his or her share of that money. That’s going to lead to a whole lot of legal fees trying to justify what expenses you paid for that were or were not legitimate (in other words, what did you spend on yourself that was in line with what you spent during the marriage, versus what did you spend on your dating life?). Of course, a nominal amount of spending is generally not going to be an issue; it’s when the spending becomes exorbitant that there’s a problem.
2) Whether / How the Kids are Affected: If your new significant other poses a danger to your kids, obviously, the Court will care. The best interests of the children are always paramount to the Court, as they most certainly are to you. If you are dating someone with a criminal history, drug problem, or so forth, legally speaking (and otherwise), that’s going to be a problem for you. A Court may find that you do not have the children’s best interests at heart and this could impact the outcome of a custody and/or parenting time determination. And sometimes, even if the new significant other may not pose a danger to the kids, the change in the status quo might be considered too much of a disruption. In that type of situation, the Court may impose what are called “Devita restraints,” or restraints on one’s significant other interacting with the children.
For better or worse (see what I did there?) this area of the law comes with a lot of emotions. It’s an outlier in the legal world, where most everything can be chalked up to dispassionate transactions and an “it’s just business” mentality. Here in the family law corner of the profession, the path of a case is often driven by rage, sadness, anxiety, jealousy, or some combination of those. If your ex knows you’re dating new people or have a serious relationship with a new person, that can often fuel the fire.
Maybe your ex will fabricate stories about you and your new significant other and will tell your friends, kids, or even the Court these falsehoods. On the other hand, I’ve had cases where one party was so dejected and heartbroken by the other’s decision to move on that nothing could move forward. In those types of cases, the grieving party just acts like the divorce isn’t happening and is completely unresponsive. I recently had a case where the spurned spouse insisted my client was dissipating marital assets to fund her long distance relationship; his refusal to drop the (totally unsubstantiated) claim held up the matter for months. My client was forced to go through every check she wrote and charge she made over a year-long period so she could prove her husband’s claim was bogus.
Now, it is not for us to discourage anyone from pursuing a relationship or an experience that makes him or her happy – though when you are married, one would think it would be more prudent to end one relationship before starting another. But, the above is food for thought before you decide to pick up the phone when that hotline bling, or let it ring.
Jessica C. Diamond is an associate in the firm’s Family Law Practice, resident in the Morristown, NJ, office. You can reach Jessica at (973) 994.7517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.