We talked the other day about how dating might impact an award of spousal support. I had originally intended to write about both child and spousal support in the same article, but it just ended up being too complicated, so I split into the two articles. You can check out the spousal support article here.
After all, it’s fairly complicated.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; your feelings aren’t complicated. Probably things have been falling apart for awhile now, and its no surprise at all that you’re feeling lonely. But it’s also really, really smart that you’re trying to figure out what implications dating might have for your ongoing divorce or custody case – because, obviously, the consequences can be severe. (Is it just me, or did I sound a bit like Dolores Umbridge there?)
You’re not alone in being lonely, and you’re not alone in wanting to start dating sooner rather than later. But, just like with spousal support, there are definitely considerations when it comes to child support (and child custody and visitation) that come when you start to date again.
Sleeping with someone else before your divorce is adultery, which is a level IV misdemeanor in Virginia – and grounds for divorce.
If you’re not divorced yet and you’re sleeping with someone else, there are consequences. Though adultery is rarely prosecuted, it’s still a crime in Virginia. Not only that, but its also grounds for a fault based divorce – which is among the most expensive and time consuming types of divorce available.
It’s also an absolute bar to spousal support, except in cases of manifest injustice.
You won’t get spousal support if it comes out that you’ve engaged in an adulterous relationship before you’ve signed a separation agreement or finalized a court order in your divorce case. Manifest injustice is hard – not to mention time consuming and prohibitively expensive – to litigate.
Not only that, but spousal support can also terminate AFTER the separation agreement is signed or the final divorce decree entered. Spousal support also terminates (1) if either spouse dies, (2) if the recipient spouse remarries, or (3) if the recipient spouse cohabitates in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of one year or more. So, you’re not ‘home free’ once the divorce is finalized either.
But there’s even more strings attached when it comes to custody and visitation.
Because custody, visitation, and child support are always modifiable based on a material change in circumstances, it matters what you’re doing PRIOR to the divorce, but it’ll keep on mattering what you do AFTER the divorce, too.
In custody and visitation decisions, we’re looking at the best interests of the child. That’s not something that’s fixed at one point in time; it’s something that changes as the kids grow and develop.
As far as child support is concerned, it MOSTLY doesn’t matter whether you’re dating. Child support is child support, and its established by formula. What goes into that formula is the incomes of both you and your child’s father, support you pay for other children, work related child care expenses, and healthcare premiums for the children only. It breaks down still further depending on how much time each of you has with the child(ren) – under primary physical custody, the maximum amount of child support is paid; for shared physical custody, it depends on exactly how many days each of you have.
Even if you remarry, it doesn’t matter. Even if you remarry a billionaire. Even if you remarry Jeff Bezos. Both you and your child’s father’s income(s) are what’ll go into the child support calculation, and it won’t matter at all how much your new partner earns. (Though it will likely impact your spousal support, as we’ve already discussed – but, you’re married to Jeff Bezos in this scenario, so who cares?)
Theoretically, at least, your child support will not be impacted by dating.
But, realistically – it COULD impact child support. If your dating ultimately impacts custody and visitation, that is.
How could me dating affect custody and visitation?
Ultimately, your dating life can impact custody and visitation. Say you start dating a violent registered sex offender who has a habit of abusing his girlfriends’ kids. Say you blend a family with your new boyfriend, and your boyfriend has a son who sexually assaults your underage daughter. Say your new relationship is a tumultuous one, and police and first responders are constantly called to the home. Say you remarry a military man who gets permanent orders to Japan – and you want to follow him. Say that your son and your new husband have a physical altercation.
There’s a million different scenarios, but, ultimately, if the court (or any Guardian ad litem appointed in your case, now or in the future) feels that your relationship isn’t serving the best interests of the children, you could lose custody or find that custody and visitation are substantially modified. Chances are good that the court won’t let you move out of state away from your child’s father – at least, not with the children, or not unless he’s moved away first. Chances are good that the court will find find that domestic violence, a history of sexual abuse, or even issues blending families might warrant a change in custody and/or visitation.
And, where there’s a change in custody and/or visitation, there could also be a change in child support.
So, while your dating life doesn’t directly impact the child support you might receive, your dating life might indirectly impact it, especially if there are other underlying issues.
There’s no statute of limitations here, either. At any point, while your children are underage, either you or your child’s father can bring a petition to modify an existing custody order if there’s been a material change in circumstances. To the extent that your children are harmed by – or even are just not thriving as a result of – your future relationship(s), it could impact custody and visitation, and, by extension, child support.
Are you telling me not to date?
No. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dating. Sometimes, though, a woman’s choice of partner is a little off, so, if I were you, I’d be very, very careful. It’s a scary world out there anymore, and so many truly sketchy guys are just waiting in the wings to snag vulnerable women. Be careful. Be aware. And, ultimately, choose your children first.
It’s a good idea to make sure your intended partner knows about your custody and visitation arrangement, and how far you’ll go to support it. If you don’t want to lose custody, for example, you probably shouldn’t be planning to follow him to Japan. If you choose to do it anyway, be prepared for the consequences.
Exercise discretion. Choose carefully. Behave responsibly. It’s boring advice, and maybe even a little insulting – because, hey, who am I to tell you, right? – but it’s best to be aware of the possible consequences, and to be aware of the choices you’ll need to make to protect your custody and visitation arrangement.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.