New Jersey's Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case questioning whether or not an ex spouse's cohabitation after a divorce could result in the loss of alimony payments. Ultimately, the court decided that in this case, cohabitation could lead to a loss of alimony.
What is important about this case?
This case involves a couple that was married from 1983 until 2006. At the time of the divorce, the husband was earning almost ten times as much as the wife at over $200,000 annually compared to the wife's annual income of $21,500. The divorce settlement included an agreement that the ex-husband would make biweekly alimony payments to the ex-wife of $2,634. The agreement also included a provision stating that the alimony payments would be terminated in the event that the ex-wife cohabitated with another person.
Part of the issue in this case is that the cohabitation was short term. The woman did not marry the other man, but lived with him for approximately two years before moving out on her own. The woman's counsel argued that this relatively short period of cohabitation was insufficient to satisfy the provision of the settlement agreement. It was also argued that the finding of termination of the alimony payments would be "unjust", that such a holding would "go against public policy and discriminate against a divorced spouse who has helped her husband succeed."
The majority of the justices found in favor of the husband. Two justices dissented, with one noting that property agreements that hinge termination on cohabitation were "instruments of oppression" that were the equivalent of "shackles" depriving a "souse the right to seek love and companionship."
How can this apply to my case?
Others in similar situations can benefit from a basic understanding of how the court's majority came to this conclusion. Some key points that the court took into consideration include:
- Were the parties competent? Both spouses that entered into the agreement were competent at the time.
- Were the parties aware? Both spouses were represented by their own, separate legal counsel. This makes it likely that each person was fully aware of the impact of the agreement.
- Was consent given voluntarily? Neither party was pressured into the agreement. From the information provided in this case, the agreement was made voluntarily by each party.
This case provides an example of the long-reaching consequences of a divorce settlement. Others that have filed for or are considering a divorce are wise to learn from this case. Those in a situation that will likely result in the payment of alimony can benefit from including provisions about cohabitation, while those who are looking to receive spousal support should read through these provisions carefully. Such provisions can be tailored to reflect your needs.