When does a new relationship affect alimony?

Remarriage or cohabitation with a romantic partner can reduce or eliminate an obligation to pay alimony.

Alimony is not always intended to be permanent. And if circumstances change, it is possible to alter the amount or length of alimony. For example, in New Jersey the obligation to pay alimony ends if the ex-spouse receiving alimony remarries.

Of course, an ex-spouse may be in a serious, committed relationship in which finances are commingled without becoming remarried. This is why the law may treat cohabitating ex-spouses similarly to remarried alimony recipients. In other words, an ex-spouse who has a live-in romantic partner may have their alimony reduced or eliminated altogether.

Recent state law redefined cohabitation

When can cohabitation reduce or eliminate alimony? State lawmakers passed an updated definition of cohabitation in 2014. Under the old statute, the standard for ending alimony obligations included a relationship that "bears the generic character of a family unit," among other criteria. While that definition changed in 2014, judges have interpreted the 2014 law differently since its enactment.

Criteria to determine cohabitation

Under the revised statutes, an ex-spouse does not necessarily need to live with a new romantic partner to be considered as cohabiting. Specifically, judges use the below criteria when determining if an ex-spouse is "cohabiting" with a romantic partner for the purposes of alimony orders:

  • Whether there are intertwined finances, such as joint bank accounts
  • Whether the couple shares living expenses
  • Whether the couple's social circle recognizes the relationship
  • Whether there are indications of a "mutually supportive intimate personal relationship" such as living together
  • The duration of the relationship
  • All other relevant evidence

Social media may play a role in determining cohabitation

Practically speaking, the criteria used to determine cohabitation means whether or not an ex-spouse can continue receiving alimony depends on evidence that he or she is in a close romantic relationship. Any evidence regarding shared living expenses, joint bank accounts and the duration of the relationship can be discovered through traditional means, such as through a private investigator. In addition, more of these cases are using evidence obtained through social media, including Facebook posts, Instagram photos and other public online posts or shares.

However, because courts interpret the above criteria differently, whether an alimony payment can be modified may depend not only on the evidence regarding cohabitation with a new romantic partner, but also according to what court governs your legal proceeding. If you have questions about whether your alimony obligation can be modified, contact an experienced attorney familiar with your local jurisdiction.