I continue to receive emails and phone calls in response to my last article, “Cohabitation, the Termination of Alimony and Cell Phones,” in which I wrote about the use of cell phone data to prove or disprove the element of “living together” in cohabitation claims related to the termination of alimony. I received a wrath of responses. Some readers were intrigued. Some readers were skeptical. But many, instead, shared their frustrations that even with this evidence, their claims could still fall short because even in the face of cohabitation, in their particular jurisdiction, all or part of their alimony obligations would nevertheless continue. So, the purpose of this writing today is to pose the question: Under what scenario is it “fair” or equitable to force the alimony obligation in the face of overwhelming evidence of cohabitation? I will answer my own question by asking additional ones: “In the face of a finding of cohabitation, under what circumstance should the continuation of alimony be appropriate? Under what circumstance should it be deemed inequitable or inappropriate?” Like so many issues in family law, every situation is unique and should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Cohabitation laws vary from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction. Depending upon where you live or where you were divorced, alimony may be either reduced, terminated, or remain completely unaffected even with a finding that the recipient former spouse is now living with a new partner. Predicting how a judge may rule on a motion to terminate alimony on the basis of cohabitation in a case is difficult, at best. For example,
- Some states may completely terminate alimony if the recipient spouse is found to be cohabitating regardless of whether the economic need has been impacted by the cohabitation
- Some states may reduce or terminate an alimony obligation only if the recipient spouse’s need for financial support is significantly decreased
- Some states may completely ignore cohabitation of a recipient spouse, and alimony will not be affected whatsoever.
Do you find it troubling that there is such a wide disparity in the treatment of alimony from state-to-state? Does it surprise any readers that in some cases, alimony could continue even after the alimony recipient remarries? Spousal support is a complicated, multi-faceted topic, which often emotionally stirs divorcing couples into a hot pot of hostility and resentment. The spirit of a spousal support award is no longer intended to be punitive, but rather, is designed to provide the recipient spouse with sufficient financial assistance to live separately from the former spouse… for a certain period of time. That period of time may be temporary or, under some circumstances, it may be permanent. With this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense that an adjustment to alimony be appropriate when the recipient spouse has another source of financial support?
While cell tower location data may create a balance of proof power in cohabitation claims and may offer evidence to either support or refute claims for termination of alimony, in the end, will it matter in your case? In follow up to my article about how we can leverage cell tower location data to determine the whereabouts of a person to support a claim that he/she is in a cohabiting relationship, and the responses I received thereto, I am curious now about the final outcome:
- What effect will or should the finding of a cohabiting relationship have on the obligation of spousal support?
- Does it seem equitable that support continues if the recipient spouse is financially supported by another relationship? Isn’t that double-dipping?
- Should a specific provision relating to the definition and effects of cohabitation be included in every final judgment or settlement agreement?