Former spouses eventually move on with their lives after a divorce, including by starting new relationships. Those relationships can raise some tricky legal issues in cases in which one former spouse is paying the other alimony. New Jersey law allows a court to terminate or suspend alimony payments when a spouse receiving those payments “cohabitates” with another person. The 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 but does not necessarily maintain a single common household.” The state’s Superior Court recently weighed in on just what that means.
When Husband and Wife divorced in 2004, Husband agreed to pay Wife $2,500 per month in alimony. They also agreed that the payments could be modified or terminated under certain circumstances, including “cohabitation.” It was that provision of the deal that Husband highlighted when he later went back to court to try to get the alimony obligation terminated. He said Wife was cohabitating with another man and that the couple publicly put themselves out as the equivalent of married spouses. He also pointed to various Facebook postings showing that the couple attended social and family events together and that Wife’s children referred to the man as “Papa Thom.”
Wife denied that she was cohabitating with Thom. Instead, she said she spent about 100 nights per year with the man and that they kept their finances and assets separate. She also provided bank statements showing that she paid all of her bills from her savings account and that there were no unaccounted for contributions. That was good enough for a trial judge, who denied Husband’s request to terminate the alimony payments. The judge also declined to allow Husband additional discovery on the cohabitation issue. Although he did require Wife to provide an accounting of her household expenses and how she was covering them, the judge said Husband didn’t provide enough evidence of cohabitation to justify full-blown discovery.
The Superior Court affirmed the decision on appeal. “[C]ohabitation is typified by the existence of a marriage-like relationship shown to have stability, permanency, and mutual interdependence,” the Court explained. “A mere romantic, casual or social relationship is not sufficient nor is simply sharing a common residence, although that is an important factor.” Among other factors, the Court said judges consider intertwined finances, the sharing of living expenses, recognition of the relationship in family and social circles, and the living arrangement.
In this case, the Court said Husband failed to make an initial showing of possible cohabitation. It noted in particular that the couple spent what amounted to weekend overnights together. The court also said there was no evidence that Wife and Thom had intertwined their finances.
The New Jersey child custody attorneys at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent. Tanya N. Helfand, Esq., is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney. Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800, or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.