Paying Alimony to Someone Who Lives With Someone
By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.
Building new relationships is an important part of moving on after a divorce. When one party supports the other through alimony payments, however, understanding the law regarding when a living arrangement other than marriage terminates support becomes very important for both parties. Because alimony, also known as "spousal support" or "spousal maintenance," is meant to ensure a certain standard of living, the question of whether cohabitation removes a support obligation is highly case-specific and is determined differently from state to state.
Change of Circumstances
Although some states may terminate alimony when one party remarries or starts living with another person, courts in other states will look at the facts of the particular case to determine if there was a substantial change of circumstances. If you request termination or modification of alimony payments, the court may look at the new living arrangement, as well as the income of each party and the income of any new spouses or persons either party is living with. Although cohabitation may not terminate alimony in some states, many states automatically end alimony payments when the recipient remarries.
Change of Financial Need
In order to modify alimony, you must show not only that the recipient party is living with another person, but also that the financial circumstances have changed. The court may modify custody in the case of cohabitation, so long as the financial needs of the recipient party are not as great because she is now in a new economic partnership. Courts will consider whether the recipient party is economically dependent on the person she now lives with, or if the new couple are financially independent of each other.
Petitioning the Court
If you believe you should no longer pay alimony because your spouse is living with another person, it is important to follow the correct procedure for modifying or terminating alimony. Unless your divorce decree provides otherwise, you may not simply stop paying spousal support. If you do not follow the correct procedure, the other party may file for contempt and seek wage garnishments, liens on your property, or other penalties as determined by your state's law. Consequently, you must follow your state's guidelines, which generally involve filing a petition to modify support. You will have the burden of proving that modification is necessary by showing that the financial situation has substantially changed because the other party is living with someone else.
In order to avoid going back to court when the circumstances of either party change, some divorce orders and marital settlements include alimony termination provisions. For example, a couple may agree to a marital settlement that allows one party spousal support, but the support automatically ends when either party dies, remarries, or cohabits with another person in a romantic relationship. Similarly, a divorce decree may state that alimony is not modifiable under any circumstance, including cohabitation. As a result, it is essential to review your divorce decree or marital settlement before bringing a modification request to court.
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."