Hands down, no contest, the most frequently asked question of Charleston Family Court lawyers at initial consultation is “when can I date”?
Sometimes, the question is posed more subtly, such as inquiring about going out socially in groups or wanting to know more about language which can be added into Separation Agreements allowing either spouse to live as if unmarried. Most often, however, the question is plainly put, and usually comes up at the very end of a consultation.
Since it is, obviously, a sensitive and important issue, let’s review it here.
If you are married, you are married until you are divorced. You are divorced when a judge not only pronounces you divorced, but signs your Decree of Divorce AND the Clerk’s office enters it into their records. Until a Family Court judge has signed a Final Order of Separate Support and Maintenance, or a Decree of Divorce, any romantic relationship in which you are engaged may constitute adultery.
If you are reading this article, you are probably a resident of South Carolina, where our judges are socially conservative and protective (for very good reasons). Judges in South Carolina Family Courts deal not only with separation and divorce, but also – and heavily – with juvenile criminals and with abuse cases. Accordingly, they have a unique perspective on what actually contributes to juvenile delinquency and to abuse of children, and you may not be aware that they are always searching for ways to protect the children of South Carolina. One of the ways that they do this is to try to protect children from their parents exposing them to romantic partners, who often times are just “passing through” and leave no positive impressions behind. A mother’s “significant other” is also very often the single most dangerous person to be around her children, with high rates of abuse and injury. Under these circumstances, there is a message of caution to one and all about ignoring your marriage vows: don’t do it!
We have a statute in South Carolina that forbids a Family Court judge from awarding ANY alimony to ANY spouse who engages in adultery, with few limitations. If you are seeking support from your spouse, your claim will be killed by proof of adultery. Even if you are not seeking alimony, the rest of your case can and will be tarnished by the image of adultery: your relationship with your children, your trustworthiness, your honesty – all of the things that matter in Family Court cases.
No doubt you will hear from many friends, acquaintances, and the like that “This is 2013! Get real!” I know this because I frequently get this response when I advise people to avoid other relationships until their own marriage is dissolved. Experienced Charleston Family Court lawyers will remind you that in our world it is not 2013, it is 1955. You forget this at your own peril.