Many divorce agreements say that a spouse can stop paying alimony if the other spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic partner. That sounds simple – but in today’s world, romantic relationships can be anything but simple. Sometimes, as on Facebook,
the best way to describe a new relationship is “it’s complicated”– and whether a spouse can stop paying alimony can be complicated, too. Here are some examples:
Steven and Lorraine Robitzski divorced in 2004, and Steven was ordered to pay Lorraine $2,500 a month in alimony, unless she cohabited with someone. Lorraine found a new boyfriend,and Steven went to court claiming that they were living together. According to Steven, Lorraine and her new beau spent about 100 nights a year together, they held themselves out as a couple at family and social activities and on Facebook, and the couple’s children referred to the boyfriend as “Pap Thom.” But a New Jersey appeals court said this wasn’t “cohabitation.” The court said there was no evidence the couple shared a home, that their finances were intertwined, or that the boyfriend was financially supporting Lorraine. There was also no evidence that they shared household chores (although the boyfriend did help Lorraine to shovel snow). As a result, Steven must continue to pay, although a judge said he could try again if he could find more evidence of cohabitation.
Next door in Delaware, though, the state’s highest court reached a different result. Joseph Paul claimed he could stop paying alimony to his ex-wife Shannon because she was cohabiting with a new boyfriend named Fletcher. Joseph hired a private investigator to tail Shannon and Fletcher, and the investigator saw Fletcher’s car at Shannon’s house on 25 out of 37 days. He also spotted Fletcher doing domestic chores for Shannon,including feeding her cat, taking out the trash, and doing yardwork.Also, he saw Fletcher using her garage code. On the other hand, the couple had separate homes, and Fletcher didn’t keep any clothes or other personal property at Shannon’s. The couple also pursued different activities during the day. But the Delaware court said this was enough to end Joseph’s alimony obligation, because Shannon and Fletcher were living together “with some degree of continuity.”
Yan Assoun’s 1997 divorce decree ordered him to pay alimony of as much as $380,000 a year unless his wife Anais remarried. The decree didn’t mention cohabitation – but when Anais moved in with a new boyfriend, Yan went to court and argued that living together counted because it amounted to an “informal” marriage.
Anais and the new boyfriend acknowledged that they lived together as husband and wife, and held themselves out to others as a married couple. But a Texas appeals court said that wasn’t good enough – unless the couple were actually legally married, or had agreed to get legally married, Yan was still on the hook for the alimony payments.
David and Cathleen Quinn divorced in 2006, and David was ordered to pay $68,000 a year in alimony. The divorce agreement said that the alimony would end if Cathleen started cohabiting with someone.
In 2008, Cathleen got a new boyfriend, and David asked to stop paying alimony. Although Cathleen and the boyfriend maintained separate homes, a judge determined that they did so only for the sake of appearances, and the couple were in fact cohabiting.
In 2010, Cathleen broke up with the boyfriend. This time, a judge said that since Cathleen was no longer cohabiting with someone, David should have to resume paying alimony.
But the New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed. It said that under the divorce agreement, once Cathleen started living with someone else, alimony was “terminated.” There was nothing in the agreement that said alimony could be started up again if Cathleen dumped her boyfriend. Therefore, David was permanently free of alimony, and Cathleen lost both her boyfriend and her support payments.
Chester Chin’s older divorce agreement said he could stop paying alimony if his wife remarried, but it didn’t mention cohabitation. However, in 2011, Massachusetts enacted a new law saying alimony could be ended if the recipient started living with a romantic partner.
Chin went to court and said he could stop paying because his wife was cohabiting. But he was out of luck, because the Massachusetts Supreme Court said the new law didn’t apply to divorce settlements that were signed before it went into effect.
As you can see, when it comes to cohabitation issues, “it’s complicated.” We’d be happy to help you if you have any questions about how the law applies to your situation.
-Rob Hagy, Charlottesville Divorce and Spousal Support Attorney, If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (434)293-4562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.