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Alimony Changes When the Receiving Spouse Cohabits with Another

How is alimony affected by the cohabitation of the spouse receiving it?

Divorce is difficult under any circumstances, usually involving financial, as well as emotional, stress. In recent years, when many spouses are both working outside the home, alimony may not be part of the divorce agreement or may be paid by either spouse to the other, regardless of gender, depending on income levels. How long alimony will be paid is variable.

The Terms of the Divorce Agreement Usually Determine When Alimony Ends

When the divorce is finalized, even if alimony is to be paid for an extended period, it typically is stipulated to terminate if the receiving spouse remarries, unless the original court document states otherwise. In some states, however, there are judges who, under certain circumstances, have the discretion to decide that alimony will continue after the receiving spouse remarries.

Does alimony stop if the recipient cohabits with another partner rather than remarrying?

Whether alimony will be terminated or reduced depends on where in the U.S. you reside and under the particular circumstances of your marriage and divorce. The following variations are possible:

  • In most states, alimony will be terminated or reduced only if cohabitation alters the recipient's need for economic support
  • Other states, however, will terminate alimony regardless of economic need once cohabitation occurs
  • In still other states, cohabitation will have no effect on alimony

Examples of Differences in Alimony Laws from One State to Another

In New York, alimony will only be terminated if the recipient not only lives with another but also considers herself or himself to be a spouse of the other party. Since very few recipients are willing to do this if it means losing money, alimony is rarely terminated in New York.

In Illinois, on the other hand, a relatively recent ruling viewed a couple as cohabiting since they were intimate, sexually and otherwise, on an ongoing basis, even though the recipient's significant other lived in a separate residence.

In Arkansas, alimony cannot be terminated unless the cohabiting couple has a child together!

In Tennessee and California, it is assumed that the recipient's need for financial support is reduced or eliminated once he or she begins a relationship of cohabitation, so, unless the recipient can prove otherwise, alimony payments will be reduced or terminated.

In Texas, courts only award alimony if: [1] the marriage lasted for at least 10 years [2] one parent must care for a disabled child and therefore can't work or [3] the paying spouse has committed domestic abuse within two years of the divorce. In addition, in determining the length of time for which alimony must be paid, the court will consider each spouse's education, employment skills, age and health, and the duration of the marriage.

In states in which there are no specific laws to address the effect of cohabitation on alimony, the judge's ruling is difficult to predict. No matter what the state law is, however, if your particular divorce agreement stipulates what will occur if the receiving spouse becomes involved in a relationship of cohabitation, your agreement will remain legally binding.

In all situations, the onus is on the person requesting an alteration of alimony arrangements to prove that the ex-spouse's financial situation has significantly improved. If you are in the midst of setting up a divorce agreement to cover such situations, or if you are already enmeshed in a conflict in regard to alimony and cohabitation, it is essential that youcontact an experienced family law attorney to vigorously defend your rights.