Is it Adultery to Date After Filing for Divorce in Texas?
Filing for divorce only kicks off the divorce proceedings. Until entry of a final divorce judgment, issues such as child custody, division of marital property, and alimony are still up in the air. Contentious divorce proceedings can take months or years to complete, and even amicable divorce proceedings can take the better part of a year to resolve. After filing, clients are often eager to move on with their lives, but they are understandably afraid of creating any additional legal hurdles for themselves while the divorce is ongoing. Clients often wonder whether dating someone new will hurt their divorce. A dedicated Houston divorce lawyer can help you evaluate your options and ensure that you protect your rights and assets throughout your Texas divorce.
Texas is a no-fault state, but there are reasons to avoid dating during divorce
There is no legal bar to dating while your divorce is ongoing. Texas is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that adultery is not only unnecessary to trigger a divorce, but it is also not one of the legal factors for a judge to consider in, for example, dividing property or awarding alimony. There are, nevertheless, other compelling reasons to avoid dating during a divorce, or at least to keep it minimal.
If your divorce is uncontested, it behooves you to do everything you can to maintain the positive, amicable nature of the divorce. Uncontested divorces are faster, cheaper, and less emotionally draining. If your spouse suddenly discovers that you have a new lover, they may feel spurned and suddenly less willing to negotiate or settle on various issues. If they sense that the affair began before the divorce, the negative effects will be compounded. A scorned spouse may become much less reasonable in handing over pieces of marital property or agreeing to aspects of shared child custody or visitation.
Dating may also affect child custody. Children are often heavily affected by their parents’ divorce, and adding a new relationship can compound that stress. A parent may argue that their ex is ignoring the feelings of their children by flaunting a new relationship. Moreover, if a divorcing parent finds themselves spending more time on a new relationship and less time with their children, the other spouse may use that as evidence in arguments over custody.
Finally, while Texas is a no-fault state, judges are human. Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not the spouse is technically adultery under Texas family law. Until you have finalized your divorce, you are still technically married, and thus any sexual intercourse still counts as adultery. If one party committed adultery before filing for divorce, a judge might be swayed on a personal level when, for example, determining appropriate alimony. A judge may limit or refuse alimony to a cheating spouse, or order a cheating spouse to pay more in alimony than they otherwise would have.
Moreover, if a spouse wasted marital assets on the affair (for example, spending large amounts of money on vacations or hotels), the court may take that into account. Dating during a divorce may be more innocent, but it pays to avoid giving your ex-spouse any ammunition to use against you during the divorce proceeding.
Alimony and cohabitation
There is an additional reason to be cautious with new relationships during and after a Texas divorce: Alimony, aka spousal support or spousal maintenance, will generally stop once the receiving party has remarried. The Texas spousal support statute allows the paying party to cease payments once the recipient either re-marries or dies, as well as when the recipient begins “cohabitating” with a new romantic partner. Moreover, if the cohabitating begins prior to finalizing the divorce, a court may take the new lover’s extra income into account when determining an appropriate alimony or child support award.
Cohabitation may mean that the recipient now lives full-time with a romantic partner. Cohabitation is, however, a broader legal term of art that may include other circumstances such as frequent, rather than full-time, house-sharing, depending on the circumstances. It is up to the paying party to show that the alimony recipient has a “marriage-like” relationship with a new partner.
If you’re facing property division, spousal support, divorce, or other family law issues in Texas, get legal help protecting your rights by contacting the talented, compassionate, and experienced Houston family law attorney Maria S. Lowry at 713-850-8859.