Can I live with a new partner before a divorce is completed?

One of the questions that divorce lawyers are often asked is whether it is permissible to live with a new partner before divorce proceedings have finished. There are several different and important issues which are raised by this question.

Is it illegal and can the other spouse stop it?

There is nothing 'illegal' in a spouse starting to live with a new partner before a divorce is concluded, and so no crime will be committed. An ex-spouse (or soon to be ex-spouse) can do nothing in law to prevent it – except in some rare circumstances, for example where it might be alleged that a child/children would be harmed by coming into contact with the new partner.

Divorce lawyers are not and would not want to be regarded as arbiters of how their clients decide to live. Lawyers are experts in the law and their role is to advise on the legal status and implications of actions taken or proposed by their clients. This advice is invariably affected by their understanding from their experience of the wisest courses for their clients to take.

The real question, therefore is...

Is it a wise course to take?

If there is nothing illegal in a spouse cohabiting with a new partner before the divorce is finished, and if the other spouse cannot prevent it by taking any legal action, it may seem ironic that in the majority of cases a divorce lawyer will advise a client against taking that step.

This advice will be given for a number of different reasons:

  • One of the most difficult issues to control and deal with are the (perfectly understandable) heightened emotions which often arise in one or both of the parties. This can include (but is not limited to) feelings of rejection, anxiety about the future, financial concerns, worries about the impact of the separation on the children, and in some communities, fear of ostracision. Such emotions can extend to such areas
  • If what may already be a difficult atmosphere between the parties is made even sourer by one spouse beginning a new relationship, it may then be more difficult to arrive at a sensible and fair solution to the various issues which need to be resolved.
  • If one of the issues which has still to be sorted out in the divorce is the future of the finances of the divorcing spouses, for one of them to start living with a new partner may result in the financial position of the new partner becoming involved in the discussions. For example, if one of the spouses sets up home with a new partner who already has accommodation, it will inevitably be suggested that the expenses which the spouse has will be less because the new partner will be sharing the cost.
  • The suitability of the new partner to have direct involvement (so soon or at all) in the lives of the children of the family may also become an issue.
  • Although there has been much talk about the possible introduction of what is sometimes called 'no fault' divorce, the current law remains that a divorce can be sought on the grounds of adultery, even if that is not the cause of the breakdown of the marriage. It will often be unwise to create an situation where this ground for divorce could be used where it did not previously apply.

Conclusion

Even between couples who are able to maintain a reasonable relationship after a separation, divorce is an emotional and unsettling experience. There are invariably issues of great delicacy which have to be resolved and lawyers are well placed to advise of the best courses of action to take to achieve a lasting and fair solution. It would be a rare situation where the premature introduction of a new partner for one of the spouses will do anything except to make that task more complex.

As always the importance of taking sound advice early in the process cannot be overemphasised.

If you or anyone you know are affected by the issues raised above and would like more information or some preliminary, confidential advice, please contact one of our experienced experts in our Family team by e-mail or telephone.

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