Separation is a legal term. Spouses who live apart without court approval are not separated in the eyes of the law. Dating while you are separated but not legally separated carries great risks that your relationship will become a factor in the divorce and related family law matters. Dating may also be a factor if you are legally separated but, generally, it is safer to date when you legally separated than when you’re just living apart – unless there are serious concerns about the person you’re dating. Serious concerns include concerns about how your children relate to your new partner.

What is legal separation in Tennessee?

Spouses in Tennessee can obtain a legal separation before obtaining a divorce. Title 36-4-102 is called “Legal Separation.” That law provides that either spouse who alleges grounds for divorce can seek a legal separation instead of a divorce. If the other spouse does not object, the spouse can be legally separated. If the other spouse does object, there will be a hearing to determine if there grounds for divorce do exist.

After two years or more time has elapsed from the date of separation, either spouse can seek a divorce based on the legal separation.

When the spouses file for separation, the family court can decide all related issues at the time of the separation such as:

  • Property division
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Alimony

The spouses can wait until one spouse files for divorce to seek a resolution of all marital issues other than divorce. In addition, when a spouse files for divorce after the separation, either spouse can seek a second review of the marital issues.

Spouses usually seek a legal separation for two reasons. The first is to start the clock running on the two-year waiting period. The second is so that one spouse can still remain a beneficiary on the other spouse’s insurance policies while they are separated – but not divorced.

What are the risks of dating while separated but not divorced?

The consequences for dating vary depending on whether the spouses have a formal legal separation or whether the spouses are just living apart without any formal court legal separation document.

If the spouses are not legally separated, then dating can present the following problems when the spouses do seek a formal divorce:

  • The dating relationship may constitute adultery which is one of the grounds for divorce
  • If you develop a material relationship with someone, that relationship may be a factor:
    • In custody decisions. Parents have the right to know who will be taking care of their children and who their children will be spending time with.
    • In property division cases. The ability of a partner of your spouse to contribute to household income may become an issue especially if your spouse is living in that partner’s home.
    • In alimony and child support cases. The income and expenses of each spouse will be reviewed for spousal support and child support. A dating relationship may be questioned – to the extent someone you’re dating is helping you financially.

If you date during marriage, then a spouse may question if you are spending a lot of money on meals, vacations, and gifs to impress the person you’re dating.

Dating relationships will certainly be questioned if you are dating someone who has any record of drug abuse, alcoholism, or child endangerment.

It may be practically harder to settle divorce issues if you’re dating and your spouse is not.

At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, we’ve been helping spouses and children manage their divorce issues for nearly 30 years. Management includes more than just the legal issues. Relationships and the end of relationships also involve many practical and emotional factors. We guide you through the litigation or settlement of your divorce issues by explaining your rights, exploring your options, and considering the practical issues in your case. For help with all aspects of your divorce, call us at 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent spouses in and near Franklin, Columbia and Brentwood Tennessee.