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Cohabitation: Do I Have To Continue Paying Alimony if My Ex-Spouse Moves In With Someone Else?

In certain circumstances, a divorce will include spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance or alimony. This occurs when one spouse has financial disadvantages and the other spouse agrees as part of the divorce judgment to compensate their ex-spouse following their divorce for a certain period of time. However, in many cases, these spousal payments do not last indefinitely or permanently. In some cases, a time limit is imposed that requires one spouse to make payments to the other for only a specific period of time. However, even within the requirement to make mandatory payments to the other spouse, certain stipulations exist that will terminate the legal responsibility of one spouse to another regarding alimony payments. Quite often, the requirement to pay spousal maintenance or alimony payments will terminate when the other spouse remarries. However, what if your ex-spouse is moving in with another person? Do you have to continue paying alimony if your ex-spouse moves in with someone else in the state of Arizona?

Understanding Spousal Support or Alimony

Alimony is intended to provide one spouse with financial assistance following a divorce from the other spouse. These spousal support maintenance payments may occur as a result of one spouse financially supporting the other throughout their education or career resulting in their inability to secure financial independence on their own following a divorce. In other cases, a spouse spent the majority of their adult years taking care of the children from the marriage resulting in a lack of opportunity to receive education or work experience which would allow them to develop skills to be marketable in the workforce.

Alimony is a tool by which the one spouse that profited from the other spouse’s sacrifices can provide financial assistance until the other spouse has the ability to earn income on their own. In some cases, however, spousal support may be permanent. Typically, alimony is provided for an established period of time, or until the other spouse remarries.

The State of Arizona and Alimony Payments

In most cases, if alimony or spousal support is addressed within a divorce, the state of Arizona will require the higher-earner spouse to pay spousal support to the other spouse if there is a direct and demonstrable financial need. Not every divorce will include spousal support. Some of the factors that determine whether or not alimony payments will be made following a divorce include:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, health and physical capabilities of each spouse
  • The standard of living enjoyed by each spouse during the marriage
  • The recipient spouse’s ability to obtain employment (education, prior work experience, earning ability, training, etc.)
  • The ability of the paying spouse to provide spousal support
  • The financial resources and earning capacity of each spouse
  • The needs of children’s future education and the ability of each spouse to provide for that education
  • Any excessive spending, destruction, concealment or gambling or marital assets
  • Damages resulting from a spouse’s criminal conviction

The state of Arizona does not have a specific formula that will calculate alimony or spousal maintenance between spouses in a divorce. The determination regarding alimony is strictly a discretionary one. In many cases, alimony payments will continue until the other spouse marries or dies. Therefore, each spouse should have proper legal representation during the divorce process in order to ensure that their legal and financial rights remain protected both during and after a divorce.

Modifying or Terminating Alimony in the State of Arizona

Unless otherwise ordered by a court, a spouse must make alimony payments through a special division of the court in the state of Arizona, which then distributes the funds to the recipient spouse. (A.R.S. Section 25-322)

There are certain circumstances where a spouse may have the legal right to modify or terminate alimony in the state of Arizona, such as when a substantial change occurs with either party. However, the modification of alimony is taken seriously by the state of Arizona and not allowed lightly. There are certain cases where alimony is automatically terminated, such as when the receiving spouse remarries or dies.

Marriage vs. Living Together

In today’s world, many couples make the decision to move in together prior to marriage. Following a divorce, some people hesitate to make the decision to marry again, resulting in co-habitation. As a result, if a divorce decree in the state of Arizona requires one spouse to pay alimony to the other spouse until the spouse remarries, the area becomes legally challenging if the decision is made to cohabitate instead of marrying.

Cohabiting and Alimony in the State of Arizona

The law in Arizona regarding cohabitation and alimony is clear. Spousal maintenance or alimony can not be reduced or terminated in any way if the receiving party is cohabiting with another person. While other states have varied legal positions on cohabitation’s effect on alimony payments, the state of Arizona has strongly held that a spouse paying alimony must continue to do so until the other spouse legally remarries.

Many spouses forced to pay alimony wonder why they must continue to financially support their ex-spouse if they are receiving the benefit of living with another person. The reason is that cohabiting is not the same as marriage. The lack of permanency and lack of legal validation means that a couple could arrange their finances within that relationship to their choosing. One partner may not have access to any financial benefit from the other. Additionally, the relationship could end in an instant, leaving the ex-spouse on the receiving end of child support again without any financial assistance.

Court Cases in Arizona Supporting Alimony While One Spouse Cohabits With Another Person

There are multiple court cases in the state of Arizona that support the position that a spouse has a continuing legal obligation to provide spousal support or alimony to their ex-spouse even if the receiving spouse cohabits with another person.

  • Smith v. Magnum – An ex-spouse receiving alimony actually married another person, but shortly thereafter had the marriage annulled. The court determined that the spousal maintenance would not terminate.
  • Van Dyke v. Steinle – An ex-spouse receiving alimony had a prolonged engagement to another person, which included a $13,000 engagement ring and lavish vacations. The ex-spouse cohabited with her fiance and a wedding was scheduled. However, the wedding was called off due to the fact that the woman discovered her alimony would end if she re-married legally. Therefore, she called off the wedding and simply held a ceremonial party without legally marrying the other party. The court in the state of Arizona still held that she remained entitled to continue to receive alimony payments from her ex-spouse.

Paying Spouse’s Remarriage

It is important to note that if the spouse that has an obligation to pay spousal support or alimony remarries, there is no impact to their financial obligation to continue to pay spousal maintenance to their previous spouse. If there are significant circumstances that would create additional significant obligations of the paying spouse, the paying spouse does have a legal right to petition the court to reduce or eliminate the legal requirement to continue to pay spousal support.

Legal Protections Regarding Alimony Payments

If you are considering filing for divorce, visiting with an experienced divorce attorney can help ensure that you receive proper counseling regarding all aspects of your divorce. If you suspect that there is a possibility that you may have to make alimony payments to your ex-spouse, you can include a provision in your divorce decree that alimony payments will stop if they make the decision to cohabitate with another person.

Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney

If you are considering filing for a divorce in the state of Arizona, you may have a great number of questions regarding your obligation to pay spousal support or receive spousal support. There are ways to legally ensure that you do not have to continue to make spousal support payments if your soon-to-be ex-spouse cohabits with another person following your divorce, however, these provisions must be provided for specifically and legally within the divorce and contained within the official divorce judgment and order. If you fail to include these provisions in your divorce, then if your ex-spouse cohabits with another person, even for an extended period of time, you will still have the legal obligation to continue to make spousal maintenance payments to them. Under certain circumstances, you can petition the court to reduce or eliminate those alimony payments. Contact one of our experienced family law attorneys at My Modern Law in Scottsdale, Mesa, Peoria, or Phoenix, Arizona who can provide you with answers and ensure your legal rights remain protected. Contact us at (480) 470-7731 or online today.