Answer submitted by family law attorney, Brian Craig of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.
Can anyone tell me if having a girlfriend while going through a divorce would have any negative impact on court proceedings? Custody? Settlement?
That is a great question and one that I am asked nearly every day. To answer the question simply, yes, having a girlfriend can negatively impact the outcome of divorce proceedings. There are literally thousands of scenarios of this question and each could individually impact the proceedings very differently. For purposes of this response, I will focus on two generalized possibilities though…
Scenario One: The post-separation relationship that the Husband/Father is currently involved in existed prior to the filing of the divorce and/or the separation. Scenario Two: That Husband and Wife separated, filed for divorce and then the Husband/Father began the relationship with his girlfriend. In Georgia, the impact of either of those scenarios in divorce proceedings can vary greatly from county to county. For instance, in some of the more liberal counties which neighbor downtown Atlanta, many judges have grown unsympathetic to post-separation relationships and even infidelity, and while they may still negatively impact the proceedings, the effect can sometimes be minimal. However, in more conservative counties, many judges frown upon the impact of infidelity and post-separation relationships and the existence of either may severely skew the distribution of assets toward the non-offending party. I have seen conservative judges in the past award custody of children to the non-offending party automatically because the judge views the existence of the new relationship as an abandonment of the family prior to finalizing the divorce.
Generally in Georgia however, unique post-separation conduct is not relevant and therefore determined to be inadmissible. For example, Wife and Husband split on June 1, 2009 and the cause of the divorce/separation is a “no-fault” ground and after a few months of being split up Husband meets and begins dating a new woman. That relationship will likely have little to no impact on the divorce proceedings. However, in another scenario, Husband and Wife split on June 1, 2009 and two weeks later Husband is openly dating a coworker that Wife was always skeptical of. Husband’s new relationship in the second scenario will be admissible and certainly could have a dramatic impact on the division of property, custody, or even alimony. Where there is no evidence that either party’s post-separation conduct prevented reconciliation, such conduct is not relevant at the trial of the case. McEachern v. McEachern, 260 Ga. 320, 322, 394 S.E. 2d 92 (1990). In McEachern, the wife claimed that it was error for the trial court not to instruct the jury to consider evidence of the husband’s post-separation adultery in awarding the alimony or equitable division of property. Id. at 322. The Supreme Court found that, because no evidence was presented that such adultery prevented reconciliation, the trial court was correct in only instructing the jury to consider the factual cause of the separation in deciding whether or not to grant alimony. Id. at 322. Where the only issues to be resolved by the jury is the amount of alimony and/or marital property to be awarded to each party, it is proper to exclude evidence of post-separation conduct of either party. Carr v. Carr, 240 Ga. 161, 240 S.E.2d 50 (1977).
The last element of how a new relationship can negatively impact divorce proceedings deals with the human element of divorce. Even though sometimes it is your spouse that is divorcing you, that spouse will suffer a wide array of emotions when they learn of or see you with your new relationship. Sometimes those hurt feelings that your spouse has from learning of your new relationship can stifle settlement or lead them to create unnecessary legal friction.
When I am asked the question of whether having a girlfriend will impact the proceedings my response is always, without hesitation, yes it will, and the Husband should wait until after the divorce is finalized to begin a new relationship. However, life moves forward even during the pendency of a divorce and sometimes it becomes more difficult and less practical to have your personal life on hold indefinitely while you are waiting for your divorce to be finalized. In those instances, my best advice is to use your best judgment and think of how your new relationship will look to others, namely a judge or jury.
Brian Craig is an Associate Attorney with the Cordell & Cordell, P.C. office in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Craig is licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia and is a member of the Georgia Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
Mr. Craig began his career in domestic relations boutique firm that handled several high profile multi-million dollar divorces in the Atlanta area, and then transitioned into a large general practice firm where he rounded out his legal experience. After handling a wide array of cases such as contract disputes, domestic relations, and personal injury, he rededicated his practice exclusively to domestic litigation at Cordell & Cordell, P.C. Mr. Craig is an Atlanta native and attended The Walker School in Marietta, Georgia, then received his Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Charleston in 2002, and his Juris Doctorate from the Florida Coastal School of Law in 2005.
“I don’t prepare my cases for settlement, I prepare them for trial.”
– Mr. Craig