By Elen Stritch, Associate Stevens & Bolton LLP
When a marriage breaks down, a divorce can take many months, even years, to finalise. During this period, it is not uncommon for one or both people to meet someone new. Indeed, a new relationship can be a welcome distraction from the stress and strain of the divorce process! People should, however, be aware of the sensitivities and risks associated with entering into a settled relationship before a divorce is finalised.
Disclosing the relationship
For the purposes of a divorce, an individual does not need to disclose the existence of each and every new relationship that they may embark upon. However, they are required to confirm if they are cohabiting or have formed an intention to cohabit or to marry a new partner.
They best way of disclosing such a settled relationship depends on the circumstances of a case. It is, however, often preferable for an individual to hear the news direct from their ex- rather than in correspondence with a lawyer or through any children of the family.
If someone admits to (or is found to be) cohabiting then the financial circumstances of their new partner will be investigated as part of the divorce. They are a relevant factor that can be taken into account when trying to reach a financial settlement.
Opening a joint bank account
Unhelpfully there is currently no legal definition of ‘cohabitation’. A number of factors have to be considered such as the duration of the new relationship and whether there is an intermingling of the new couple’s finances. It can be argued that opening a bank account with a new partner or sharing overheads for a property are evidence of cohabitation so people need to think carefully before they take such steps.
Think before you splurge
Divorcing individuals should think twice before treating a new partner to expensive presents or lavish holidays. The more prudent party in the divorce may succeed in arguing that such excessive spending should effectively be ‘added back’ into the matrimonial pot so that they are not at a financial disadvantage.
Think how you spend
When dealing with the division of finances on divorce, separating couples usually have to disclose at least 12 months’ worth of bank statements to their ex-partner and to their lawyers. Multiple trips to Ann Summers with a new partner may have seemed like a good idea at the time. However, they could come back to haunt the spender when disclosed in Court.
Think before you tweet
People should be sensitive about posting details of their new relationship on social media and need to consider their privacy settings. They should try and avoid their children or ex finding out about their new relationship though a Facebook status update or holiday photos on Instagram.
Introducing your children
People should be sensitive with regard to the timing of this and try to avoid introducing new partners to their children immediately after a separation. This can heighten tensions with a soon to be ex-spouse and put children of divorcing parents through even greater turmoil.
Communicating with your ex
If you intend to introduce a new partner to your children you should try and communicate this to your ex first. This could be through a sensitively worded email or within family counselling or mediation. Otherwise, a lack of communication on this issue could serve to inflame matters. It could also put children in a difficult position if they are unsure as to whether or not they should mention the introduction to the other parent.
Spend quality time with your children
People may want to spend 24/7 with a new partner in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of their relationship. However, they should make sure that they spend quality time with their children alone and without the new partner being present on every occasion.
Consider if the relationship will last
The potential impact of a new, settled relationship cannot be ignored. People should therefore consider whether or not their new relationship is likely to stay the course before they form an intention to cohabit or before introducing children to their new partner.