In 2014, there were amendments to the alimony statute. One provision was that alimony may be suspended or terminated upon cohabitation of the payee spouse.
New Jersey Superior Court Family part has the power to order one divorcing spouse to pay the other alimony, or what’s also commonly called spousal support. These payments are intended to help the receiving spouse maintain something akin to the lifestyle that he or she enjoyed during the marriage. The amount depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to each spouse’s financial situation and earning capacity. The support may be temporary or permanent, and may be terminated if certain changes in circumstances occur. One such change occurs when the spouse receiving the payments starts living with another person. As New Jersey’s Superior Court recently explained, however, cohabitation’s impact on alimony depends on when the support was resolved. Was it before the new law of 2014 or after?
Husband and Wife divorced in 1992. They also entered into a settlement agreement, in which Husband agreed to pay Wife $100,000 in alimony per year for five years. Husband additionally agreed to increase that amount to $150,000 in 1997. He went back to court in 1996, however, and asked a judge to terminate his alimony obligation because Wife was living with another person. A trial court declined to completely eliminate the alimony obligation, but it did reduce the annual amount by more than $12,000. The Superior Court upheld the decision on appeal.
Husband returned to court more than 17 years later, this time asking that his alimony obligation be terminated based on a change to state law that passed in 2014. Specifically, the state legislature amended the alimony statute to provide that “alimony may be suspended or terminated if the payee cohabits with another person.” A trial court agreed, finding that the amendment qualified as a change in circumstances on which the alimony should be terminated. The court found that Husband was entitled to be relieved of his support obligation because he was now 77 years old and had reached full retirement age. He was still working.
Reversing the decision on appeal, the Appellate Court said the change to the law didn’t apply to this case. Instead, the Court found that the legislature made clear that the amendments were not meant to apply to any judgments rendered or agreements reached before the law was changed. “[T]he court erred in relying on the amendments to the law to modify the permanent alimony previously ordered in this case,” the appeals court concluded. (This is not a black and white issue, however.)
One of the factors in this case was that the support was already changed in past before the new law. In as more recent case of a divorce prior to 2014, the Court suspended alimony for the period of time the ex-wife was cohabiting. The ex and her boyfriend broke up a month after the ex-husband moved before the Court to terminate alimony. The Court suspended (did not terminate alimony) for the two years she was cohabiting. The Court did award the husband legal fees of over $145,000.00 and back alimony of nearly $170,000.00. The husband still had to pay one half of the alimony until the other half covered what the wife owed.
It is necessary for the Property Settlement Agreement to state in express language that cohabitation will result in the termination of alimony. Remember, each case is unique and must be looked at carefully. It is vital that a person considering a divorce or grappling with alimony and related legal issues seek the counsel and advice of a seasoned family law attorney. The New Jersey family lawyers 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 that we represent. Tanya N. Helfand, Esq., is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney.
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