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New relationships following divorce: how soon is too soon?

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Recent articles in the press have told of a High Court Judge warning wives against entering new relationships following the breakdown of their marriage, whilst the marital finances are yet to be resolved.  His comments have attracted interest as many people will consider entering new relationships following the breakdown of the marriage, and yet this judge is positively advising against it.

When parties are divorcing and sorting out their finances, the court is required to consider “all the circumstances of the case” including things such as new relationships, and any intentions to move in with a new partner. Where the court is satisfied that a new relationship is ‘serious’ and is likely to lead to cohabitation in the near future, then the financial position of the new partner is something that can be considered by the court when determining the finances of the divorcing couple.  The comments by this High Court Judge, whilst seemingly controversial, are therefore not really ground-breaking new guidance.  As cynical as it may sound, divorcing parties should refrain from entering into serious new relationships whilst the financial matters are being resolved.  This applies just as equally to men as it does to women.  The existence of a new relationship can simply serve to complicate financial matters between the divorcing parties, and can complicate the picture given to the court.

What is perhaps different in the case in question, is that the judge made a finding that the wife was in a serious new relationship and was likely to cohabit with her new partner in the future, even though this is not what her position or evidence before the court stated. Cohabitation is a relevant consideration because of the financial contribution both parties may make or are expected to make to the household. The judge therefore made more of a leap in this case than judges historically have been prepared to do. Historically, judges would want positive evidence of a party’s intention to cohabit, before inferring any level of financial support from the new partner.

Whilst avoiding serious new relationships until  the technicalities of ending the marriage are finalised is logical, in a personal sphere it is quite clear why many parties engage in new relationships.  Firstly, the divorce process and the process of sorting out matrimonial finances themselves can be  slow and onerous and can extend to a number of years, usually this happens in cases where one party is uncooperative with their financial disclosure.  Secondly, at the point the parties commit to the divorce process it is likely that one or both of them had decided much earlier that the relationship had come to an end, in which case emotionally they may feel they are ready  to enter into a new relationship. Thirdly, the parties may just miss being in a relationship so be eager to find someone new to prevent them being alone.

The advice to be given to each party in relation to divorce depends on their individual circumstances, and parties should not feel discouraged from moving on with their lives, purely for tactical reasons. The main message I would take from the comments of this judge would simply be to resolve financial matters as quickly and amicably as possible, so that the ability to move forward with your life is not hindered by cynical, tactical considerations.

Please do not hesitate to contact Justine Osmotherley from our Family team on 0113 336 3323 or by email at justine.osmotherley@clarionsolicitors.com

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