Cohabitation: Do I have to continue paying alimony if my spouse is co-habitating?
By law, Spousal Maintenance ends upon remarriage or death. But what about when your ex is shacking up? Do I have to pay alimony is my ex is living with someone else? Living with his or her new “life partner” collecting spousal maintenance? It is becoming significantly more popular for divorcees to stay single or co-habitate, opposed to remarrying. In fact, remarriage rates have dropped by over 40 percent in most recent years. There are a number of factors that can account for this decrease. One possibility is that people today are much more self-sufficient. It is unusual that a person does not have some sort of employment today. Another factor is the payment of spousal maintenance.
It is common that when couples divorce there are stipulations surrounding a party’s award of spousal maintenance. The stipulations will be for the amount, the length of time, and what will cause the award to terminate. Sometimes the award will terminate after a few years, especially if the parties were married for a shorter duration. Other times it will terminate if the receiving party remarries of dies. So what if the receiving party is cohabitating? Does this terminate spousal maintenance?
States have varied on positions regarding cohabitation. Some states have held that if a party is holding themselves out as married or simply cohabitating with a member of the opposite sex that there are grounds for modification or termination of spousal maintenance. The basis for this is that someone cohabitating is essentially receiving the benefits of spousal maintenance and financial help from the new partner. Further, the new partner is likely taking advantage of the spousal maintenance also.
Unfortunately, Arizona does not have a similar law. In fact, the rule regarding cohabitation is very clear. There have been multiple cases that have found spousal maintenance cannot be terminated or reduced if a receiving party is co-habitating.
In Smith v. Mangum a wife who was receiving spousal maintenance remarried. However, she shortly thereafter annulled her marriage. The court held, because her marriage was annulled and therefore void, her spousal maintenance would not terminate.
In another Arizona case, Van Dyke v. Steinle, a wife who was receiving spousal maintenance became engaged to her fiancé shortly after her divorce was finalized. The wife continued her engagement for a long period of time. Further, she wore a $13,000 engagement ring and enjoyed lavish vacations with her fiancé. Her and her fiancé also lived together. Their wedding was scheduled for the following December. However, when the wife discovered that her spousal maintenance would terminate upon her remarriage, she canceled the wedding. Alternatively, her and her fiancé had a ceremonial party. Unfortunately, the spousal maintenance would not terminate in this situation either.
These types of situations are becoming more and more common. This is especially true when a party is receiving a very large spousal maintenance payment. If you are planning on going through a divorce and will likely have to pay spousal maintenance, it is probably a good idea to include a provision in your decree that terminates spousal maintenance if the receiving party cohabitates. Unfortunately, this is the only way to ensure that you will not be paying spousal maintenance for someone who refuses to legally remarry.