Termination of Alimony for Cohabitation

Bergen County Attorney Experienced in Divorce Proceedings

Alimony is a legally enforceable award of funds that must be paid by one ex-spouse (the payor) to the other (the payee) following a divorce. Once it is established in a divorce decree or settlement agreement, alimony may be modified, suspended, or terminated only upon a legally sufficient showing of a “change of circumstances.” One condition that may constitute a “change of circumstances” is a finding that the payee spouse is cohabitating with another person. If you are a payor or payee of alimony and are seeking or fighting back against a modification, suspension, or termination motion, contact Bergen County alimony lawyer Brian D. Iton. He can guide you through the nuances of these proceedings, and diligently protect your interests.

How Cohabitation May Affect Alimony

The purpose of alimony is to provide post-divorce financial support to a lower-earning, or non-earning spouse, to enable that spouse to live at an economic level close to that which he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Limited duration alimony is a temporary provision that provides the payee with economic support for a set period of time. During the support period the payee should develop or increase his or her independent earning capacity. At the conclusion of the support period alimony payments are terminated. In some cases, particularly for lengthy marriages, alimony payments may last for the duration of the payor’s work life (i.e., until the payor retires). With the exception of reimbursement alimony (which may be awarded when one spouse finances the other’s education) alimony automatically terminate upon the remarriage of the payee spouse.

For obvious reasons, payor ex-spouses want alimony obligations terminated or reduced as soon as possible, whereas payee spouses usually prefer that payments continue indefinitely. Since alimony terminates upon remarriage, if a payee spouse is receiving substantial alimony, they have a strong disincentive to remarry and lose their support. As a consequence, as cohabitation has become more socially acceptable, more payee spouses have opted for cohabitation instead of remarriage in order to obtain the benefits of companionship, support, and intimacy without jeopardizing their receipt of alimony. However, when a payee ex-spouse is deriving financial security from a relationship that involves cohabitation, it is inequitable to force the payor spouse to continue to provide support.

Prior to the 2014 changes in New Jersey divorce laws, an alimony order could be amended upon a finding of cohabitation. However, the exact definition of “cohabitation” had not been defined. In 2014 the legislature codified the definition of “cohabitation” to make it clearer for payors and payees what sort of conduct will be viewed by a court as cohabitation.

Prior to 2014 a hearing on cohabitation was a fact-intensive inquiry, which inquired into whether the payee shared a residence with a partner and whether the cohabiting couple essentially were married in all but name. To find cohabitation the relationship must have been stable, serious, interdependent, and lasting, and the couple must have undertaken duties and behaviors commonly associated with the married state.

The 2014 amendments to the law have changed the cohabitation provisions. While the new law still requires a fact-intensive inquiry, the factors that govern the inquiry appear more liberal. A shared residence is no longer required if there is frequent and intimate contact. The relationship must still have some of the hallmarks associated with marriage, such as being mutually supportive, involving mingled financial arrangements, being recognized by social and family circles as a permanent or stable relationship, and entailing shared living expenses, chores, and responsibilities, among other factors.

The 2014 law is new enough that the meaning of its changes is still being worked out through litigation. Some observers believe it is now easier for a payor spouse to amend or terminate an alimony order. However, as more court decisions are published concerning the application of the law’s cohabitation provisions, it will become clearer whether this is true.

Contact a Knowledgeable Alimony Lawyer in Bergen County

If you are paying or receiving alimony, you may need legal advice from a family law attorney on whether and under which conditions an alimony order may be terminated, reduced, or suspended. In particular, it is important to understand which facts must be shown in order to change an alimony award or settlement based upon the payee’s cohabitation with a partner. For a free consultation, call Bergen County alimony attorney Brian D. Iton at (201) 731-3086 or toll-free at (844) 431-3380, or use the contact form on this website to set up an appointment. Mr. Iton represents people in Hackensack, Paterson, Newark, Jersey City, and other communities throughout Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Passaic Counties.