By Valerie Jules McCarthy, Esq.
Prior to the enactment of the alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n), New Jersey Courts relied on the standards set by previous case precedent to determine whether a party was cohabiting and its impact on alimony. Essentially, the new statute consolidates many of the standards developed in prior case law to simplify the inquiry as to whether a particular romantic relationship amounts to cohabitation.
The New Jersey Legislature defines cohabitation as a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union.” To further assist in determining whether a relationship fits the above definition, the new legislation identifies eight factors for Courts to consider in determining whether cohabitation is occurring:
- Intermingled finances, such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
- Shared or joint responsibility for living expenses;
- Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s family and social circle;
- Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
- Shared household chores;
- 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;
- The relationship’s length; and
- Any additional relevant evidence.
If you are paying alimony, after reviewing these factors, you may come away thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to prove most of these factors? I have no idea if my ex-spouse shares a bank account or household chores with his or her significant other.” Don’t fret, because if you believe that your ex-spouse is cohabiting, you only have to provide the Court with evidence that, at first appearance, suggests cohabitation. This can come in the form of showing that your former spouse is spending most nights at the home of his or her significant other. In the legal field, this is called making a “prima facie” case. Once you have successfully done so, you will be given the opportunity to obtain discovery from your ex-spouse. This discovery includes obtaining bank records, proof of living expenses, taking depositions of your ex-spouse, and other witnesses to determine the true extent of the relationship. It is in the discovery stage that you will be able to obtain the information to prove the foregoing factors.
If you are in a serious relationship and receive alimony, you should look closely at the eight factors and determine if any of them apply to you. If you find that any of the above factors are applicable, your romantic relationship may have an impact on your entitlement to alimony.
Whether you are receiving or paying alimony, the issue of cohabitation can be tricky, as it is fact-sensitive and often not clear cut. You should contact an attorney to assist you in determining whether or not your current living arrangement or your spouse’s relationship may have an impact on your entitlement to alimony or your responsibility to pay alimony.
By Valerie Jules McCarthy, Esq.
It is becoming more and more common for couples to cohabitate; that is, live together, in a relationship without the bond of marriage. Many couples find this arrangement to be a great way to “test the waters” before jumping into marriage.
If you are divorced, receiving alimony from a former spouse and are thinking about “testing those waters,” you should read this article carefully, because your romantic life may have a significant impact on your financial future. If you are paying alimony, you should be aware of the changes to the law, as they may impact your obligation to continue to pay alimony.
Most divorcees are aware that if they receive or pay alimony, the obligation will automatically terminate if the recipient remarries (in most cases). Many divorcees also know that if the recipient of alimony lives with their significant other, it may impact alimony. The new alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n) enacted on September 10, 2014 provides clarification to help Courts and practitioners to determine if a party is cohabiting.
A noteworthy addition to the law regarding cohabitation is the Legislature‘s overt recognition that some couples may be cohabitating without living together full-time. The new statute specifically states that a Judge cannot find the absence of cohabitation based on “grounds that the couple does not live together on a full-time basis.” This language certainly changes the game, as many people may have believed that if a couple was maintaining two separate households, that factor would carry the day in defining whether or not cohabitation was occurring. The moral of the story is that a person may be deemed to be cohabiting even if he/she maintains a separate residence from their significant other.
Cohabitation with a paramour may be a basis for modifying or even terminating alimony. So it stands to reason that the spouse receiving alimony may try to hide from the spouse paying alimony that s/he is cohabitating with an unrelated adult. Post office boxes and false addresses may even be used to thwart discovery of the truth, which can make it very difficult for the payor spouse to piece the proofs needed to prove cohabitation.
Luckily for the payor spouse, s/he does not have to provide all cohabitation proofs right away. Initially, the payor spouse needs to present to the Court only sufficient information to convince the Court that more in-depth discovery is warranted. Then, the paying spouse will be granted the ability to use the force of the Court to compel production of the information necessary to prove or disprove cohabitation by the former spouse. At the end, a modification or even a termination of support may be warranted.
Often during a divorce, assets purchased by one party during cohabitation prior to marriage are considered marital assets. But this is not always the case. Courts need to review the facts surrounding the parties’ relationship. Questions must be asked, such as: Was the asset purchased as part of a shared enterprise leading to the marriage? Was the asset purchased as a regular part of the purchaser’s lifestyle and had nothing to do with the plans for a shared life (ie., adding to a comic book collection)? Did the non-purchaser then act in reliance of an expectation that [s]he would have an interest in that asset?
Additional factors also come into play. For instance, at the time of divorce, did the non- Continue reading “Assets Purchased By One Party During Cohabitation Prior to Marriage”
The length of the marriage, beginning with the date of the marriage, is one of the key factors a court looks at when it decides the length of alimony (in terms of years). However, the period of cohabitation prior to the marriage can be added as a factor for the court to consider when deciding alimony. The above may occur if the spouse seeking alimony was financially dependent upon the other during that period of cohabitation. McGee v. McGee, 277 N.J. Super. 1, 14 App.Div.1994)