The death of a supporting or supported spouse has always been a ground to terminate alimony in New Jersey. Similarly, the remarriage of the supported spouse is a ground for termination of alimony. However, when the supported spouse cohabitates with a third-party at what point does the cohabitation warrant termination of alimony? For years courts struggled with identifying the exact point at which a relationship became cohabitation. Was evidence of a car overnight in the driveway two nights a week enough to support cohabitation? Was there a requirement for a full-scale move-in before cohabitation would be found? The law in this area was updated in 2014 and now provides a very detailed description of what constitutes cohabitation warranting a suspension or termination of alimony.
The new law defines cohabitation as a mutually supportive, intimate, personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union. Maintenance of a single, common household is not required for a court to find cohabitation. The law requires that the court consider whether the couple has intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and joint liabilities. Buying a property together would be an example of a joint holding or joint liability. The court will also consider whether the couple shares joint responsibility for living expenses; whether the relationship is recognized in their social and family circle; and whether they are in fact living together. Other indicators of cohabitation include the frequency of the couple’s contact, the length of their relationship, and indicators of mutual support, including sharing household chores.
As the supported spouse moves into the dating realm he or she must be mindful of when their relationship crosses from dating, even heavy dating, into cohabitation. The supporting spouse doesn’t have to wait for all of the elements of cohabitation to arise to file a motion to reduce or terminate alimony. Once the supporting spouse finds out that the supported spouse is dating they can conduct surveillance or hire a third-party to monitor the supported spouses dating life. When they feel that they have some evidence of a relationship they can file the motion to terminate alimony. Just by filing the motion to terminate or reduce alimony the supporting spouse places the supported spouse’s new relationship under tremendous pressure. Nobody in a new relationship wants the details of the relationship laid out and sorted through in a court proceeding. In some cases just the act of filing the motion may be enough for the supporting spouse to negotiate a reduction or termination of alimony.
It should be noted that if cohabitation is established and as a consequence alimony is terminated by the court, if the new relationship breaks up the supported spouse cannot return to the court and ask for a resumption of alimony. Once cohabitation is found to be taking place alimony ceases forever. If alimony is important to a supported spouse they have to make a determination early in any relationship, before it gets serious, as to whether the relationship is worth losing alimony over. A worst-case scenario for a supported spouse is to receive an award of alimony for a number of years, and then enter into a relationship which ultimately breaks up, taking down not only their expectations of a new life, but also their stream of income from alimony.
If you have questions about the effect of cohabitation on alimony in New Jersey contact me at 201-731-3086 (toll-free at 844-431-3380), or via email using the contact form. I have been helping clients deal with family law and divorce-related issues for over 20 years. My office is located in northern New Jersey and my clients are drawn primarily from Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Passaic, Union, and Middlesex counties. Whether you contact my office by email or telephone the initial consultation is free of charge.