The New Jersey Appellate Division recently addressed the effect of co-habitation on alimony in New Jersey divorces.
The case, Reese v. Weis, involved a husband and wife who divorced in 1996. Pursuant to their final divorce judgment, the husband was to pay permanent alimony of $100,000 per year. Permanent alimony is alimony that the lower-income spouse receives for the rest of her life, usually up until the death of either spouse or his or her remarriage.
Permanent alimony can also be reduced or terminated upon a significant change in circumstances. Here, the significant change in circumstances was the cohabitation of the wife.
The wife began cohabitating with another man in 1998, two years after the final judgment in divorce was issued. In 2008, the husband filed a motion to terminate his alimony obligation, based on wife’s cohabitation. The trial court granted he husband’s motion, holding that her open 10-year-long cohabitation afforded the wife a significant economic benefit such that alimony was no longer warranted. The wife appealed the termination of alimony, and the husband appealed the effective date of the judge’s order.
The Appellate Division affirmed the termination of alimony, holding that whether the spouse receiving alimony has received an economic benefit from cohabitation depends on the actual financial assistance he or she receives from the new relationship as well as other enhancements to his or her standard of should be considered. For example, if the live-in boyfriend or girlfriend is paying the rent or mortgage, the dependent spouse does not have this significant expense and this should be considered.
Additionally, the Appellate Division held that the cohabitation of a dependent spouse creates a presumption that the cohabitation reduces or ends that spouse’s need for alimony. The burden is then on the dependent spouse to prove that he or she remains dependent on the ex-spouse’s support.
In the case at issue, the Appellate Division upheld the trial judge’s findings of an intertwined financial relationship between the dependent spouse and her live-in boyfriend. Their shared payment of expenses helped the court reach its conclusion that the wife received an economic benefit from the relationship.
According to the Court, this economic benefit need not be strictly quantified, and courts should also consider factors such as the length of the cohabitation, the duration of the economic benefit, especially given the length of the marriage, and whether the cohabiting relationship resembles marriage.