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Can Living with Someone Affect my Spousal Maintenance?

May 17, 2016 at 6:15 AM

Living with (Cohabiting) with someone after a divorce when you have been awarded spousal maintenance is not grounds for terminating maintenance under the current law, but the possibility is looming with legislative proposal H.F. No. 1333, which would allow for a termination or modification of spousal maintenance awards when the person receiving the maintenance is found to be cohabiting with another individual. Spousal maintenance, commonly called alimony, refers to payments made for financial support from one spouse to another after divorce. Though it continues to be a gray area in the law, spousal maintenance is awarded when one spouse demonstrates a financial need for maintenance, and the court then determines the amount and duration of maintenance by looking at several different factors.

If spousal maintenance is awarded to a person permanently, which is the presumption, it will end upon the death of either party or if the person receiving maintenance remarries, unless the parties agree to something different. There is no mention in the current statute of terminating or modifying spousal maintenance if one party cohabitates with another individual, which is what H.F. No. 1333 intends to change.

H.F. No. 1333 provides, in part, that “[u]nless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, the obligation to pay future maintenance shall be suspended or terminated upon evidence that the party receiving maintenance cohabitates with another individual.” In determining whether a recipient of maintenance is cohabitating with another person, H.F. No. 1333 would require the court to look at whether the recipient would have gotten remarried if he/she did not receive maintenance, the economic benefit the recipient of maintenance receives from his/her cohabitant, whether the recipient and the cohabitant have jointly held assets, responsibility for living expenses, recognition of family and friends,  duration of the relationship, living arrangements, promises to support the other, among other relevant evidence. The court would not be able to consider cohabitants who are parents, grandparents, children, siblings, or aunts and uncles.

Courts may consider the economic impact of “living together” or cohabiting with another individual when an ex-spouse brings a motion to modify spousal maintenance, but courts do not have the ability to stop maintenance under the current law. The new law, if passed, may encourage people to marry, however, problems may arise in determining whether the appropriate “cohabitation” arrangement exists between the recipient and an individual, considering there are no guidelines for duration of the arrangement or a real definition of “cohabitation” in the proposed legislation.  The burden of proving “cohabitation” may not be as simple as it sounds.

Though it is unclear now whether the bill will become a law, H.F. No. 1333 passed in the House of Representatives on May 11, 2016 and is now making way to the Senate floor. The first reading of the bill in the Senate took place on May 12, 2016.  In the event that the legislation does become a law, people who have current obligations to pay spousal maintenance or those who are receiving spousal maintenance should be aware of their legal options moving forward. 






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