Recent New Jersey Law Clarifies The Definition Of Cohabitation In Alimony Modification Cases

StakeoutAlimony arrangements can become infuriating when the alimony recipient secretly cohabitates with a new partner. This often results in one of two untenable situations: The alimony recipient may be using their alimony disbursements to financially support their new paramour; or the alimony recipient may be receiving cash payments of financial support from the new paramour, while concealing significant changes in finances.

Cohabitation is an area where divorce and dissolution becomes exceptionally messy. The obligor (person making alimony payments) sometimes hires a private investigator to monitor the alimony recipient and try to prove cohabitation. If cohabitation is discovered, the obligor may follow up by trying to discern the financial changes that result from the new cohabitation arrangement. Cohabitation can be hard to prove, because a wily alimony recipient might keep their new financial arrangements “off the books” in order to continue to receive alimony checks.

The evidence often yields an incomplete picture of the situation, which is then used to persuade a judge that cohabitation is occurring and an alimony modification is warranted. But a second problem arises because judges traditionally wield vast discretion in defining cohabitation, thus making alimony modification outcomes hard to predict.

Until recently  family courts relied upon a New Jersey Supreme Court decision in a case called “Konzelman v. Konzelman.” This decision defines cohabitation as (1) an intimate relationship in which the couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage, (2) a relationship that is sufficiently stable and enduring, and (3) actual cohabitation in the same residence. In addition to those three criteria, courts were free to pick and choose any relevant parameters in deciding whether a couple was cohabitating.

The recent New Jersey Alimony Reform Act clarified the meaning of cohabitation. According to this new legislation, the courts must now consider eight factors in determining whether cohabitation is occurring:

  1. Intermingled finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
  2. Shared or joint responsibility for living expenses;
  3. Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s family and social circle;
  4. Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
  5. Shared household chores;
  6. Whether the alimony recipient has received an enforceable promise of support from another individual within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5;
  7. The relationship’s length; and
  8. Any additional relevant evidence.

The legislature borrowed some wording from Konzelman v. Konzelman, stating that “Cohabitation involves a mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union.” But the legislature recognized that some couples might “cohabitate” without actually living together full-time. The new alimony reform act says that a judge can not rule out cohabitation exclusively based on “grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.”

The New Jersey Alimony Reform Act clarifies the types of evidence needed to prove cohabitation. But even with this guidance, cohabitation remains a contentious post-divorce issue. Some alimony recipients will continue to fight and conceal their cohabitation through deception and courtroom arguments. If your ex-spouse or ex-domestic partner is receiving alimony while cohabitating with a new partner or, if you are the recipient of alimony which your former spouse is seeking to terminate because of  your alleged cohabitation, contact the divorce attorneys at Goldstein Law Group.  Call us at 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey,  August 27, 2014

Determining Custody After a Domestic Violence Trial in Which a Final Restraining Order is Entered in New Jersey,  August 5, 2014

How do I Oppose a Motion to Terminate Or Modify a Support Obligation in New Jersey?  August 4, 2014