Want to date before getting divorced? Here’s what you need to know

By Tonya Graser Smith

Launching yourself back into the dating scene while you’re separated can be an immediate charge, a confidence boost. Of course, it can be scary too. This column today is for those who want to date before they are officially divorced.

Two words: Be careful.

Legally speaking and emotionally speaking, it’s wise to pause, to take a breather.

I’ve seen people who are serial daters within two months of separating. (Note: I practice family law in North Carolina, which requires couples to be legally separated for one year before filing for a final decree of divorce.)

Sometimes people are looking for a quick fix to mend their hearts or to fill their time, so they’re practically in full-on speed dating mode. Other times, people are doing it to show the soon-to-be ex how desirable they are. Or they’re looking for their next serious relationship right now.

From the legal perspective, it’s usually all bad. Often couples haven’t resolved all of the family financial matters or spousal support or how they will cover new living expenses incurred from being legally separated. If someone has a new partner, it can call into question exactly when that relationship started. People get jealous.

Jealous feelings are natural, too. I often hear things like, “I saw a picture of my ex and a date at dinner at a fancier restaurant than we ever went to.” Or, “I heard my ex was traveling with a co-worker and I know they weren’t traveling for work.” These situations can hold up settlement negotiations or make court more contentious – and drive up legal fees in the process.

I advise anyone who asks, not to date when separated. Do they listen to me? Let’s just say if they do listen their legal fees are much less in the long run.

“I’ll run the risk.”

Just don’t.

For separated persons in North Carolina, who want to date while separated, I recommend getting the separation agreement, which addresses money and division of property matters, in place as soon as possible. And I recommend that this agreement contain a “free to date others” clause.

If you are dating, your spouse will find out and you could end up paying for it – in terms of your divorce settlement – for years to come. No dating, no swiping right until you are legally divorced or have locked down the “free to date” clause.

What to do instead of dating?

Just about anything else.

If you have kids, spend more time with them when they’re not with your ex. They need you now more than ever.

Work. As in throw yourself into your work. If you can focus and compartmentalize your emotions, it could be a great time to get ahead professionally.

Work out. If you’ve been wanting to commit to an exercise routine, now is your chance. Imagine how great you’ll look when you’re ready to date.

Spend more times with friends. Girls’ – or guys’ – nights out.

Get a puppy. Nothing like a puppy – to take up your time. And these kisses and snuggles are divorce lawyer approved.

Focus on a hobby or project. Heck, maybe it’s time to finally remove all the popcorn ceilings from your house. Yeah, OK, that’s not as fun as splitting a bottle of Merlot with someone new and fun and cute. But it’s not forever. Get divorced or get your separation agreement in order first.

As a divorce lawyer, I promise you’ll be glad you didn’t rush things.

Be true to yourself.

And when you do start dating, remember this line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

With all the online dating apps, social media and social it can be easy or tempting to portray yourself as someone you are not. Be true to yourself. Love yourself first, then someone will love you. Remember love is patient. Love is kind. And when dating after separation, wait, and all in due time.