Why Dating While Separated is…Complicated

Is Dating ok during a separation? As long as you are living apart, and abide by any legal agreements, dating while separated is legal. However, dating while separated may have emotional implications that may impact the quality of life for your entire family for years to come.

Researcher P.R Amato called separation a “socially ambiguous status—not quite married, not quite divorced (2010).

A separation is not the same as a divorce because you are legally married to your spouse, regardless of the duration of your separation period. There are many things to consider if you are looking forward to dating while separated.

dating after separationHere are 6 crucial areas you should address about your separation, its possible impacts on your kids, and the related other risks involved.

1. The Type of Separation

Your type of separation will have a major impact on your lifestyle and the advisability of dating while separated. Any individual who is separated from his/her spouse must know about the different types of separation.

  • Trial or “Ambiguous” Separation

When you and your partner need a break from the relationship, you can choose to live apart while you both can decide what’s best for your relationship.

During a trial separation, you choose whether you want to opt for couples therapy or divorce.

  • Permanent Separation

If you live apart from your spouse but don’t want to reconcile or get a legal divorce, you can say that you are permanently separated. Living apart can affect property rights between spouses in some states.

As a couple, if you decide that you don’t want to get back together, then the debts and assets you both acquire during the separation period will belong to the spouse who acquires them.

As a permanently separated couple, you are not responsible for any debts that your spouse borrows. However, that also means that you are not entitled to your spouse’s property share or income.

  • Legal Separation

In many states, you can receive legal separation by filing a request in a family court. But the document is not equivalent to a divorce. When you are dating while legally separated, it does not mean that you are divorced from your partner and can marry someone that you are dating.

The court’s order granting the legal separation includes orders about alimony, property division, child support, and custody, similar to a divorce order.

2. Signs that Show You are Ready to Date

You must be available emotionally and physically before you start dating. In addition to that, here are a few signs that will help you determine whether you are ready to date again.

  • You No Longer Feel Romantically Involved With Your Spouse: Generally, when people separate, they still find themselves connected to their spouse.
  • Although you’re living apart and may not have any physical contact with your spouse, you may still feel as if you are emotionally attached.

If you are married, dating is a BIG NO! unless you utterly separated from your spouse, both physically and emotionally.

Conversely, if your spouse is dating someone, and you’ve truly moved on, it should not impact you in any way.

  • You Successfully Resolved the Most Difficult Parts of Your Separation:   If you’re in a legal battle with your spouse, becoming romantically involved with someone new at the same time can be exhausting.
  • Your Kids Support You: In most cases, separated couples don’t start dating because they don’t want their children to be affected. Talk to your children about how you want to move on with your life, but ask about their feelings as well…even if they’re adults. That’s a great way of making children feel how much you love them and value their opinions. Please make sure they are ready for you to make the jump back into the dating pool.
  • You No Longer Grieve: While separation is not as traumatic as a divorce, it can have implications. Sometimes, you need more time than other people need to mourn the loss of your previous relationship. Don’t start your love life by going on a rebound date.

3. Know the Risks of Dating Before Divorce

Regardless of whether your separation will ultimately lead to a divorce or not, dating during separation and before a divorce can have its own set of risks. In the absence of a legal separation, dating can pose the following risks if you seek a formal divorce.

  • Unfortunately, in some states, your spouse can sue whoever you’re dating for alienation of affection, or blame you for adultery and use it as a base for divorce.
  • Married dating can influence custody decisions. As a parent, your spouse has the right to know about the people their children spend time with.
  • Your spouse or a partner’s ability to contribute to household income can become an issue if they’re paying extra to live in another dwelling.
  • Dating can also be an issue in child support and alimony cases in some states. The court reviews the income and expenses of each spouse for child and spousal support. The judge may question a dating relationship to discover if it affects you financially.

4. When You are Dating Your Partner

While it’s true that separation allows two individuals to experience their life if they decide to end their marriage, it doesn’t always mean you cut all ties with your spouse.

Many spouses date each other while separated.

That is why married dating during separation enables couples to find ways to make their relationship work.

If you were not in an abusive relationship, consider the merits dating your partner during the separation.

It might give you and your partner another chance to see if things can work out again. Attending your children’s school events together, and participating in their birthday celebrations can also create the emotional space for reconciliation.

Doherty, Willoughby, and Peterson (2011) found that both spouses, in nearly 10% of separated couples, believe their marriage can be saved.

5. Remember This About Dating While Separated…It Has Consequences…

  • It is Different from Single Dating. Now that you know what it means to be dating while legally separated, you can easily see how the whole experience is different from dating when you are single.
  • Try as you might, You Can’t Become the Same Person You Were Before Your Marriage. Whether you have children or live alone, separation draws some boundaries for both men and women.
  • Respect Legal Boundaries. It will make it easier for you to date transparently and responsibly, which, in the long run, will help your children live a normal life.

For example, the notion of a “no-fault” divorce varies from state to state. Avoid dating on the down-low if you live in a state where it might be weighed against you in a court battle. Only 17 US states are truly “no-fault.”

 6. Important Tips for Dating Attractive Others While Separated

  • Only Date Attractive Others When You Are Emotionally Available and Not Ambivalent

If you’re preoccupied with reconciling…you’re not emotionally available. If you want to make your spouse jealous by dating someone else…you’re not emotionally available…and if you want to date only because your partner has moved on, and you don’t want to be alone…you’re not emotionally available.

  • Date yourself First: Spend some quality me-time to know yourself better. If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of living alone, take a few months to be by yourself and see what comes up for you. Pursue your interests, and engage in extreme self-care. Living alone might be a profound adjustment to your nervous system.
  • Acknowledge the Rebound: Don’t jump into the first relationship that presents itself to you after separation. Consider cultivating your friendship circle. Dating is not the only remedy for being alone.
  • Be Honest: Don’t lie to yourself, your spouse, or the person you are dating. Have a hard conversation about dating while separated so that you’re both on the same page, if possible.
  • Involve Your Kids…to a point: If they’re old enough, talk to them about your thoughts, feelings, and fears. Your kids need your best efforts to succeed. Make sure you understand how your marital troubles are impacting them, and put their needs first. Ideally, you want to keep them in the loop, but not burden them with the responsibility of being your primary emotional support.

 Dating While Separated is a Personal Decision Which May Echo Through Time

Don’t be in a rush to date during your separation just because you’re uncomfortable being alone.

But if divorce is your path, don’t avoid eventually putting yourself out there because you fear others will judge you for your actions.

Resolve the ambivalence of dating while separated with your partner, perhaps as part of a formal separation agreement.

If You Want to Work On it…Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later

Reuniting after separation doesn’t mean that you’ve resolved your marital issues.

Partners who have separated, but remain married, report greater relationship instability and less marital satisfaction than couples who never separated (Binstock & Thornton, 2003; Kitson, 1985; Vennum et al., 2014; Wineberg & McCarthy, 1994).

Science-based couples therapy can help you manage your perpetual problems with skill…even if it’s your “last shot.”

Reflect and Renew

Separation can be an opportunity to reflect, and renew yourself emotionally and spiritually.

Remember that dating while separated is a personal decision, and if you are conflicted about the issue, you’re probably not comfortable enough just yet, or maybe you need some relationship coaching to explore your options.

One of the more immediate impacts of dating while separated is that it may tend to undermine any efforts toward reconciliation. Make sure you understand what message dating while separated will send to your spouse, your kids, and your extended family.

You have a right to live your life on your terms and conditions. Just remember that your decisions have consequences, and whatever mistakes you make along the way will truly be your own.

Considering a Separation? Ask Us About How Coaching Can Help


Amato, P. R. (2010). Research on divorce: Continuing trends and new developmentsJournal of Marriage and Family72650666https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741=3737

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, writing for SheKnows, The dos and don’ts of dating when you’re separated but not divorced http://www.sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/1105393/dating-when-youre-separated-but-not-divorced

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, writing for SheKnows, The dos and don’ts of dating when you’re separated but not divorced http://www.sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/1105393/dating-when-youre-separated-but-not-divorced

Beverly Bird, writing for LegalZoom. Found athttp://info.legalzoom.com/can-married-men-legally-separated-date-committing-adultery-21168.html

Binstock, G., & Thornton, A. (2003). Separations, reconciliations, and living apart in cohabiting and marital unionsJournal of Marriage and the Family65432443https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741‐3737.2003.00432.x.

Antonio Borrello, writing for the Huffington Post, 6 Warning Signs That You Are Still Hung Up on Your Exhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/antonio-borrello-phd/6-warning-signs-that-you-_b_7979722.html

Eileen Coen, J.D., Five Tips for Dating During Separation. Found at http://www.ecmediation.com/five-tips-for-dating-during-separation/

Doherty, W. J.Willoughby, B. J., & Peterson, B. (2011). Interest in marital reconciliation among divorcing parentsFamily Court Review49313321https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744‐1617.2011.01373.x.

FreeAdvice Legal: Dating During Divorce or Separation. Found at https://family-law.freeadvice.com/family-law/divorce_law/dating-while-divorcing.htm

Kitson, G. C. (1985). Marital discord and marital separation: A county surveyJournal of Marriage and Family47693700https://doi.org/10.2307/3552270.

Vennum, A.Lindstrom, R.Monk, J. K., & Adams, R. (2014). “It’s complicated”: The continuity and correlates of cycling in cohabiting and marital relationshipsJournal of Social and Personal Relationships31410430https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407513501987.

Wineberg, H., & McCarthy, J. (1994). Separation and reconciliation in American marriagesJournal of Divorce & Remarriage202142https://doi.org/10.1300/J087v20n01_02.

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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  1. Look up Narcissistic Personality Disorder and "supply". Just a suggestion in addition to seeking help from a professional therapist. It may have no relation. But it may.

  2. I am dating a separated man for 4 yrs he lives with me but still share bank acct with his wife and 4 kids, he says he has not filed because of finances but he lives with me and his paycheck cannot pay for her and me both, he says he is waiting for oldest to finish high school but in the mean time it would be better if he was divorced because then we would have 2 incomes, it's complicated but I need some advice-

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