In New Jersey, alimony, also called maintenance or spousal support, is a financial payment that one spouse (payor), pays to his or her ex-spouse (payee) following their divorce.
New Jersey courts allow an alimony order to be modified, and sometimes terminated, upon a “substantial change of circumstances”.
Per New Jersey case law, and as recently set forth in the amended alimony statute, under some circumstances, cohabiting with another person, after your divorce, will constitute a “substantial change of circumstance” warranting a modification or termination of a previous alimony order.
This post will list five things that you need to know if you are considering cohabitation post divorce. First, however, please be aware that this process can be complex and very time consuming. For guidance through this process, it is important that you hire an experienced New Jersey Family Law Attorney.
FIRST: If you receive Alimony, it could be reduced or terminated
Under New Jersey law, your alimony award may be terminated or reduced if you cohabitate with another person after your divorce.
The question, of course, is how “cohabitation” is defined. Simply being in a relationship with another person, is generally not sufficient to warrant a finding of cohabitation.
Instead, as provided by statute (N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n)), 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 does not necessarily maintain a single common household.”
The statute continues, and provides a list of non-exhaustive factors for the court to consider when determining whether cohabitation exists:
- Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
- Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;
- Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle;
- Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
- Sharing household chores;
- Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5; and
- All other relevant evidence.
As set forth above, the main factor to determine whether a finding of cohabitation is sufficient for the termination or suspension of alimony is whether and to what extent the parties are financially intertwined.
SECOND: Spouse seeking the Modification bears the Burden
Importantly, the party who seeks to modify the alimony award bears the burden of establishing a substantial change of circumstances.
If an initial showing of a change of circumstances is shown, the Court will generally permit limited discovery on the issues presented to see if sufficient evidence exists to warrant a modification of alimony.
What this means is that you and your ex-spouse will exchange tax returns, pay stubs, a Case Information Statement, and potentially other documentation to determine whether and to what extent cohabitation might be occurring., If the evidence, alone, is not sufficient to determine the extent of cohabitation, the court will likely set a date for ahearing to take testimony and review pertinent evidence.
These cases can be very lengthy and complex. For this reason, it is important that you have an attorney experienced in alimony modifications on your side.
THIRD: Are you the Payee Spouse or the Payor Spouse?
When you are cohabiting post divorce, it matters whether you are the payor spouse or the payee spouse.
If you are the spouse having to pay alimony (the payor spouse) and you are cohabiting post divorce, New Jersey courts will most likely not modify the existing alimony order. If, however, you are the payee spouse (the spouse receiving alimony awards), and if you cohabit post divorce, this may lead to a reduction or termination in the previous alimony order.
FOURTH: Consider the Terms of your Marital Settlement Agreement
Finally, what happens if you cohabit post divorce may be set out in the terms and conditions within your marital settlement agreement (MSA).
In short, MSAs discuss issues that could come up after a divorce. It is important that you are knowledgeable of the terms within your MSA. Your MSA’s terms may explain, for instance, the circumstances that may lead to a reduction or termination of your alimony order.
One of these conditions may very well be cohabitating with another person post divorce.
FIFTH: Other Factors that may constitute a Substantial Change of Circumstances
As noted above, cohabitation Is just one type of a change of circumstances that may be sufficient to warrant a modification or even termination of alimony.
Other examples of changed circumstances were first set forth in the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980), and include:
1) An increase in one’s cost of living;
2) An increase or decrease in the payor spouse’s income;
3) An illness/disability that occurred after the original alimony order;
4) The payee spouse’s loss of a house/apartment;
5) The payee spouse’s later employment; and
6) Subsequent modifications in the tax law.
Contact A Central New Jersey Divorce Attorney
If you are facing issues, or if you have questions, regarding alimony in New Jersey, it is important that you speak to an experienced Family Law Attorney. Contact the Law Office of Steven M. Cytryn, LLC , for assistance with your case. Proudly Serving Central New Jersey, including Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Union and Mercer Counties.