Divorce lawyers are often asked by clients about the legal consequences of dating after the parties have separated. At the very least, this question needs to be addressed in connection with issues relating to child custody and visitation, marital property and alimony. This blog post will only consider the issue of alimony under Maryland law.
Many who are recently separated are not ready to date again. This is not only the safest course emotionally but legally. Others are ready to leap back into the dating game. This raises some tricky questions.
Maryland law sets forth 12 factors that the court must determine in deciding the amount and duration of alimony. No one factor is more important than any other. In any single case one or more factors may stand out as being critical. The sixth factor, which is most relevant to this discussion, is "circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties".
Adultery occurring before the breakup of the marriage may be viewed as a primary or major factor in the estrangement of the parties. On the other hand, if it is indisputable that dating began only after the parties separated, the analysis is much different. In Bangs vs. Bangs, the court upheld an award of alimony to wife who had an affair after husband had abandoned her for another woman. The court ruled that wife's post break up relationship was far from the sole cause of the estrangement and was rather an incidental contributory factor. While ruling in favor of alimony to wife who had been dating, the opinion leaves the issue wide open for the judgment of the trial judge. The inquiry will be on the status of the relationship of the parties when the dating began and whether it contributed to the estrangement. There may not be a bright line test. Instead, the issue requires a careful analysis of facts and law by divorce lawyer and client.