Few issues are as contentious in New Jersey family law than alimony. Many ex-spouses believe that they will continue to pay alimony until their spouse remarries. However, there are some times when alimony may end before this time. One of these times is when the spouse receiving alimony cohabitates with another person. However, just because your spouse gets involved with another person does not necessarily mean this relationship will be viewed by the court as “cohabitation” and grounds to terminate an alimony award.
Below, I, Andrew Fischer, discuss cohabitation, how it might affect alimony, and what factors the courts consider when determining whether cohabitation is occurring. As a trained mediator and alimony attorney in Freehold, NJ, I am here to help you make sense of this legal issue for you.
Purpose of Alimony
Alimony helps to bridge the financial gap between ex-spouses. For example, if one spouse stayed home to take care of the children while the other spouse worked outside the home, alimony can help provide needed financial support until the spouse becomes self-supporting. Alimony helps to balance out the situation
Factors Considered for Awarding Alimony
There are 14 factors courts consider when awarding alimony in New Jersey:
- The actual need for financial support and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay
- The length of the marriage
- The age and physical and emotional health of the spouses
- The standard of living established in the marriage and the likelihood the spouse can maintain it after divorce
- The earning capacities, education, work skills, and employability of the spouses
- How long the recipient spouse has been away from the job market
- Parenting responsibilities for the spouses’ children
- The time and expense to acquire education or training for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting
- The contributions each spouse made to the marriage
- The division of property
- The income available to spouses from investments
- The tax treatment of the alimony award
- The nature, amount, and length of any pendente lite support paid
- Any other relevant factors
Courts do not have to weigh all of these factors equally and can put more emphasis on certain factors that are relevant to the case.
What Is Cohabitation?
Cohabitation is a term specifically identified in New Jersey’s alimony laws under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n). In essence, it is a mutually supportive relationship that reflects the duties and privileges associated with marriage or a civil union. It is not necessary for the parties involved in this type of relationship to maintain a single common household.
Effect of Cohabitation on Alimony
If alimony is challenged and the court finds cohabitation is occurring for the recipient spouse, it can suspend or terminate alimony.
What Courts Look at to Determine Cohabitation
New Jersey courts consider several factors to determine if the recipient spouse is in a cohabiting relationship, including:
- Whether the couple is living together
- Whether they share living expenses like rent and utilities
- If they have intermingled finances such as joint checking accounts or credit cards
- The frequency of contact between them
- If they share household chores like cooking and cleaning
- The length of the relationship
- Whether the couple’s family members and friends recognize the relationship
- Whether the new partner promised to support the spouse receiving alimony
- Other relevant evidence
New Jersey’s alimony laws specifically state that the court cannot find cohabitation does not exist simply because the couple doe not live together on a full-time basis.
Evidence of Cohabitation
If a paying spouse believes their ex is cohabiting with a new partner, they may want to challenge the need to continue paying financial support. To be successful, they will need to prevent evidence of cohabitation. It is not enough to simply show the ex is involved in a new romantic relationship.
Evidence that can help prove cohabitation might include:
- Photographs or videos showing the couple lives together, such as evidence that they sleep in the same household and leave to work from that same location
- Public records showing vehicles or other property that is jointly titled in the couple’s names
- Official mailing address change reflecting the change of residence
- Checking account and credit card statements showing joint accounts
- Statements from friends, family members, and neighbors about the couple’s relationship
- Social media posts and photos showing the couple lives together and is frequently in contact
- Documentation of where the couple’s vehicles are parked overnight
Some of this evidence may be difficult for an ex-spouse to collect, so they might consider hiring a private investigator for help. They may also seek the assistance of a qualified New Jersey family law attorney who can use the formal discovery process to obtain crucial evidence.
Options for Handling Alimony in New Jersey
A New Jersey court can award alimony by considering the factors discussed above. However, some spouses might prefer to make their own agreement regarding the amount and length of alimony payments. Many spouses do this by participating in mediation.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method in which a third-party neutral helps parties involved in a legal dispute to work together to reach a customized resolution to it. By going through mediation, the parties can create a clear plan regarding how long alimony will be paid, when it will terminate, and whether cohabitation should be considered. By taking the time to create this framework, spouse may be able to provide more clarity and prevent the need to litigate future relationships.
Contact a Freehold NJ Mediator and Family Lawyer for Help
If you need help with your alimony case, would like to learn more about your legal rights and options, or need assistance in working out an agreement regarding alimony, you can reach out to me, Andrew Fischer for help. I can help with all aspects of alimony cases, including modification requests.
If you have any questions about alimony in New Jersey or would like to try to work out an agreement with your spouse, contact me today for a free, no-obligation consultation.