If an alimony recipient lives with an unrelated person, the cohabitation may justify a modification or termination of an alimony obligation. The Courts look at two things:
- Is there “cohabitation” by the alimony recipient? If yes, the dependent spouse will have the burden to prove a continued financial need based on his or her individual economic circumstances in order to preserve alimony payments.
- What is the economic effect of his or her cohabitation and does it warrant termination or modification of the supporting spouse’s payment of alimony? Assessment of financial need rests on whether there is a decrease in need (a) because he or she is receiving support from the person with whom he or she is cohabiting, or (b) due to the probability that the alimony is being used to support the person with whom he or she is cohabiting. Because this is generally only known by the dependent, the burden to prove continued financial need falls on the recipient of the alimony. If he or she does not come forward, the payer should be entitled to terminate his or her alimony obligation.
In many cases, the effect of cohabitation on the alimony obligation will be specifically addressed in a Marital Settlement or Property Settlement Agreement. In cases where neither Agreement specifically addresses the issue of cohabitation, the Courts have held that state case law applies. In these cases, the Court must analyze seven factors to assess the nature of the relationship and determine whether alimony should be suspended or terminated as a result of the cohabitation:
- Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
- Shared or joint responsibility for living expenses;
- Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social family circle;
- Shared premise, frequency of contact, duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
- Shared household chores;
- Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person; and,
- All other relevant evidence.
The Courts use the length of the relationship as a deciding factor to determine whether a suspension or modification of an alimony obligation is appropriate. The longer the cohabitation, the more likely a change in alimony is warranted.