Cohabitation in New Jersey Alimony Cases
If your ex-spouse is living with someone else, you may be able to get your alimony obligation reduced.
What is cohabitation?Cohabitation simply means living together. Generally, when an ex-spouse who is receiving alimony, i.e. the payee, lives with another adult, there is a presumption that the person with whom the payee is living is providing financial support for his or her household. Thus, there would be less of a need for alimony, and pursuant to New Jersey law, a judge can suspend or terminate it. The purpose of alimony is to allow both parties in a divorce to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, the standard of living they enjoyed while they were together. Under the law as it existed prior to September 10, 2014, cohabitation was simply considered a change in circumstances that would warrant the court taking a closer look at the nature of the relationship between the payee and his or her significant other. Exactly what a judge considered in determining whether there was cohabitation and its impact on alimony was largely left to his or her sound discretion.
How does the new New Jersey alimony law affect my case?Under new legislation, the New Jersey alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, gives judges clearer guidance on how to consider cohabitation. The factors a judge must now specifically consider in determining whether there is cohabitation, which is often denied by the payee, include (1) intertwined finances, (2) actually sharing responsibility for living expenses, (3) whether the couple is recognized as a couple by family and friends, (4) the extent of time the new couple spends together "and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship," (5) sharing household chores, (6) whether the payee "has received an enforceable promise of support from another person," and (7) any other evidence the judge deems relevant. Perhaps most notably, the judge "may not find an absence of cohabitation solely on grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis." The practical effect of this change in the legislation remains to be seen, but it is rather clear that the Legislature has determined that simply saying you are not living together, and even maintaining two separate residences, may not be enough to overcome an ex-spouse's assertion that he or she should be relieved of an alimony obligation based on the payee's cohabitation.
What do I do now?If you are paying alimony, you should consult with an experienced family attorney to determine whether the facts of your case warrant an application to the court to suspend or terminate your obligation. If you are receivieng alimony and in a new relationship, you should also consult with an attorney to determine what steps you can take to protect the alimony to which you are entitled.