Many people believe that once they have separated from their spouse they are within their rights to do whatever they like in terms of their personal lives. However, even after you have separated you are still legally married until such time as there has been a final divorce (known as a Decree Absolute). What this means is that if you start a physical relationship with another person after you have separated but before there has been a divorce then you are committing adultery in the eyes of the law.

This might been viewed as unfair, particularly by those people who have left their spouse because they can no longer tolerate their unreasonable and sometimes abusive behaviour. However, it is perfectly possible for the person left behind to divorce you based on your adultery after the separation. A divorce petition will often include a claim for the person who is alleged to be at fault (the Respondent) to pay the legal costs of the person who has issued the petition (the Petitioner). Often, the parties (via their Solicitors) are able to agree that the costs should be shared equally or each party should pay their own legal costs but where an agreement cannot be reached there is the risk that a Judge will order that you should pay all of the Petitioner’s costs without the Judge knowing that the reason you left them in the first place was because of their behaviour towards you. If you find yourself in these circumstances you might want to speak to a Solicitor about the wording that you should put into your acknowledgement of service which is a form that you will need to complete after you have received the petition from the Court.

If your estranged spouse divorces you for adultery then you should appreciate that when your financial matters are resolved it is highly unlikely that you will receive a lower financial award than you otherwise would have done. You will however need to declare any intention to remarry or cohabit with that new partner and you may well be asked to give details of your new partner’s financial position so far as it is known to you.

In terms of the effect on any Court proceedings concerning your children then you are unlikely to be awarded less time with your children just because you have a new partner unless it can be proven that the new partner presents a risk to your children. A Judge might also want to limit the involvement of a new partner at the beginning of a relationship to ensure that the children are safe with that person and to check that the relationship is going to be a lasting one before the children are introduced. The involvement of a new partner is often a highly contentious issue in proceedings concerning children and the Courts understand the need to deal with the issue in a sensitive manner.

Whilst the risks of any consequences arising from starting a new relationship before a divorce are small, they are there. If you are worried about what to do if you meet someone else then speak to your Solicitor. Talk about what sort of person your estranged spouse is and how they might react to the news so that your Solicitor can advise you on the best course of action for your particular case.

Christine Rawsthorne

Sultan Lloyd

7 October 2015.