Alimony in New Jersey is awarded under certain circumstances - and living with another romantic partner could quickly scrap that monthly stipend.
Unlike child support, which is calculated per the terms of the state’s child support guidelines, alimony has no rigid formula. Rather, there are more than a dozen statutory factors, as spelled out in NJSA 2A:34-23(b), that the Court looks at in determining a proper monthly amount of support. These include (but aren’t limited to) the financial need of the receiver, the wealth of the payor, the duration of the marriage, the age & health of both parties, and the standard of living the pair established while together.
The most common types of alimony awarded in New Jersey are:
- Limited duration alimony. This is an option for marriages of less than 20 years. Payment duration is no longer than the length of the marriage.
- Rehabilitative alimony. This allows a dependent spouse to receive financial support while they receive training or education needed to become self-sufficient.
- Reimbursement alimony. This is paid reimbursement to a spouse who financially supported the other during their career training or education.
Years ago, one could receive permanent alimony (also known as lifetime alimony) if the marriage had lasted beyond the 20-year mark. But permanent alimony was tossed in 2014, replaced by something called open durational alimony. It’s similar to permanent alimony in that it’s only extended to former couples with more than two decades of marriage. There is also no stated end to open durational alimony payments. However, it can be terminated if there’s evidence of a material change in circumstance. An example of a material change in circumstance would be if the payor suffers a disabling condition and starts making a lot less money, or if the payor reaches good faith retirement age. One divorce attorneys deal with regularly is the remarriage or cohabitation of the receiver.
What Exactly is Cohabitation?
Cohabitation doesn’t necessarily mean you share a last name - or even a lease. As our Somerset, NJ alimony attorneys can explain, cohabitation is generally understood to mean a mutually-supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken the duties and privileges commonly associated with marriage or a civil union. Lawmakers have stipulated that cohabitation doesn’t necessarily mean that one maintains a single common household with the other.
Certain legal benefits like health care provisions or tax breaks typically require marriage or at least a civil union, but cohabitation doesn’t need to be formalized to factor into an alimony case. It’s not unheard of for alimony recipients (particularly those receiving open durational alimony) to refrain from getting married to a new significant other because they know it will impact their monthly payments. However, if someone is receiving alimony AND benefitting from the shared finances of another partner, this circumvents the intended purpose of alimony (providing a single individual with financial support so they can continue with the same quality of life they enjoyed while married).
New Jersey Courts weighing allegations of cohabitation in an alimony case have considered the following evidence:
- Shared finances. The most common example of this would be a shared bank account, but it could also include another partner regularly paying the rent or mortgage from their own funds.
- Witness testimony of friends and family. These would be individuals willing to testify that the two are living together.
- Evidence that the pair are living together most of the time. Even if they officially have two separate addresses, evidence that one is staying with the other more often than not can be used as evidence of cohabitation.
- Shared household duties or chores. Does the boyfriend/girlfriend routinely assist with managing the household, repairs and maintenance, and regular expenses?
- Other evidence. Admissions of one or both parties of cohabitation in texts, emails, social media posts, etc. may be relevant.
These aren’t the sort of details an ex-spouse is likely to make readily available. So, if you’re making a case for cohabitation (or disputing one, for that matter), it helps to work with a family law attorney experienced in New Jersey alimony and cohabitation cases.
Cohabitation Allegation in a Recent NJ Alimony Case
The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate division recently considered an alimony termination request involving an allegation of cohabitation in Temple v. Temple. According to Court records, the pair were married for 18 years when they divorced in 2004. Their two kids were grown, and the marital settlement agreement stipulated an order of permanent alimony (which still existed then) - of $5,200 per month, to be paid from the former Husband to his ex-wife.
More than 16 years after their divorce, the Husband moved to end alimony, alleging his ex-wife was cohabitating with a man she’d been in a relationship with for the past 14 years. The Judge denied the motion. The ex-Husband appealed, arguing he was at least entitled to an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Court agreed, reversing and remanding the case back to the lower Court.
Court procedure requires that the person asking to change the alimony agreement on the basis of cohabitation present a prima facie case (based on first impression and accepted as correct unless proven otherwise) for it before they can move ahead with the discovery process. Here, the Plaintiff alleged his former Wife was cohabitating with another. She denied it. The Court accepted her sworn statements as true when in reality, it was her ex-husband who was entitled to the assumption of the truth of his allegations at that early stage in the process.
In particular, the Appellate Court pointed to “an abundance of evidence” that raises a fair question about whether the ex-wife and her boyfriend were living together, if not married. This was based on information available on social media, the way they presented themselves in public, and information from family members that the pair are now or have in the past resided together. They have traveled together extensively and, the Court found, a fair case could be made that the pair are in a mutually-supportive, intimate relationship that could constitute as cohabitation.
The matter was sent back to the lower Court for further analysis and a decision.
If you’re paying alimony and wish to alter or end it based on cohabitation OR if you’re a recipient whose alimony payments are being challenged, our Somerset family law attorneys can help.