Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Question: My husband and I have been "going through the hoops" for the last five years with no meaning to our relationship. So we decided to separate, and he moved out. Since I do not work outside the home, he is paying me support and all the bills. In one breath, my lawyer tells me that because we are still married, it's best that I not date anyone; in the next, he says that our case will not be over for a year or more.
So I called my husband and we go to see a mediator, a really nice woman with a background in social work, who has made me feel a lot better. She even gave my husband and me an agreement to sign that says we are each free to date and do whatever we want to do, socially and personally. The mediator says that so long as we both agree, we can each do what we want. This seems too good to be true. Why didn't my lawyer tell me this could be done?
Answer: Your lawyer didn't bring it up because what you and your husband signed is against public policy in many states and could cause you a lot of grief, depending on where you live. First of all, a mediator has no business having you sign anything like what you describe. It's not a mediator's job to advise you about the law, especially when she is a social worker and you have a lawyer. That's not the mediator's job. If you are represented by a lawyer, you should not sign or rely upon anything until it has been reviewed by your lawyer.
What you signed could cause you more problems than you ever dreamed possible. In some states, marital fault can be considered and can not only reduce an award of property division, but also reduce or even terminate alimony -- even where the activity occurred after the separation and had nothing to do with the break-up of the marriage. As the economically dependent spouse, you must rely on your husband for support. If you are caught in a compromising situation before your divorce or before you and your husband make an agreement, you could be out of luck. Listen to your lawyer, not those who may help you feel better.