My former spouse is cohabiting…can I stop paying alimony now?
Many divorced clients ask if they can stop making alimony payments if they suspect their former spouse is cohabiting. The answer, simply, is it depends.
Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, court-ordered alimony terminates when the person receiving alimony is cohabiting. However, if alimony payments are paid pursuant to a marital settlement agreement, the terms may differ. In that situation, the you should first check your agreement to see if cohabitation is a bar to alimony in your specific case.
The more difficult task is proving that cohabitation exists.
Demonstrating cohabitation in Pennsylvania requires evidence of financial, social, and sexual interdependence. Cohabitation occurs when two individuals are living together in a romantic relationship that resembles a marriage. However, this means more than two people spending time together or even spending overnights together. In addition to a romantic relationship, cohabitation requires proof of financial interdependence such as the commingling of finances or assets which is often difficult to demonstrate. So, if you think your ex-spouse is cohabiting in a manner that could end your alimony obligation, how do you prove it? A few starting points are as follows:
- Check social media. Often you will find pictures of your former spouse and their new partner that could be helpful to proving your case. You should also look at how their “relationship status” is listed on these platforms.
- Talk to neighbors or mutual friends. These people may have firsthand knowledge of the couple’s living arrangements and could be potential witnesses in the event there is an alimony termination hearing.
- Consider hiring a private investigator. A skilled private investigator can gather evidence as to how often the new partner is at your former spouse’s residence. For example, does he come to the residence at night and leave in the morning in different clothing? Does the car move from when he arrives at night until he leaves in the morning? How often does it appear that he stays over? Does he take out the garbage, walk the dog, or perform other maintenance at the residence?
Once you believe you have enough information to proceed with terminating alimony, it’s time to consult with your family law attorney.
Your attorney will file a petition to terminate alimony which is the first step toward ending the obligation. You and your attorney can also discuss what evidence you have and what evidence you may still need to prove your case. There will also be an opportunity for discovery which will allow you to obtain information and documents from your former spouse. For example, you could request documents that might show someone else is paying the mortgage or rent. Or, you may know from social media posts that the couple was recently on vacation and request documents to prove that your former spouse’s girlfriend paid for the trip. After all the information is obtained, you and your attorney can determine if you have enough proof of cohabitation to proceed with your case. If you do, and a judge agrees, the termination of alimony will often be retroactive to the date you filed your petition.
Cohabitation can be extremely difficult to prove as it is more complex than simply evidencing that a couple spends a lot of time together. If you think your former spouse is cohabiting and you have questions about your ongoing alimony obligation, you can contact one of our family law attorneys to help you decide how to proceed.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.