Cohabitation means to live with another individual. In the contest of real estate or rental properties, cohabitation means that two individuals are living together in the same residence. In most cases, they are an unmarried couple, though this is not always the case.

For example, cohabitation may include situations where individuals have registered under the civil union or domestic partnership laws of the state of their residence. Typically, in these cases, the act of cohabitation does not provide each individual partner with protections regarding their property and assets.

In the context of a divorce, however, cohabitation means living with an individual who is not a spouse but with whom they are romantically involved. In states that do not provide an exact definition, individuals who live in the same home in a marriage-like relationship and share expenses but are not married are cohabitating.

It is true for married and unmarried couples that a relationship does not last forever. In a legal context, it is much easier for unmarried couples to separate than married couples to go through a divorce.

If a couple is unmarried, so long as they can agree on a division of assets, it is not necessary to involve the legal system. This applies even if there are children of the relationship.

However, if the couple is unable to come to an agreement, they may end up in a courtroom. This can be challenging, as the laws that apply to divorce procedures do not apply to unmarried couples.

There may be exceptions in some states. This may include an unmarried couple living in a state which recognizes common law marriages or individuals who qualify as domestic partners in states that recognize such.

What is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement, also called a living together contract, is a contract that individuals who are living together and are in a relationship but are not married can create in order to govern their separation, should it occur. These agreements are legally enforceable contracts.

These types of agreements outline what the parties are obligated to do and what property they are entitled to receive in the event that they break up. This is especially important if the couple has shared property, such as bank accounts or residences.

A cohabitation agreement can also address:

  • Child custody and child support;
  • Financial support during and after the relationship;
  • Distribution of property after a breakup;
  • Any joint bank account agreements; and
  • Payment of debts during and after the relationship.

If a couple resides together with no intention of getting married, they may enter into a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement may also be used for a couple who is planning to get married, but the wedding date is far off in the future.

It is important to note that a cohabitation agreement may not be recognized in every state. In states that do recognize these agreements, they must be in writing. In addition, a cohabitation agreement does not override a prenuptial agreement if a couple happens to have both.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, or alimony, is payments, usually monthly, that are provided from one spouse to another in order to allow a spouse to live independently following the dissolution of a marriage. It is used to ensure that the income earning spouse does not take advantage of the non-earning spouse. It also is used to compensate the non-earning spouse for contributions they made during the marriage that were not financial in nature.

Alimony is intended to support the spouse that receives it so that they can achieve the educational or professional goals that are necessary for them to become self-sufficient. A court examines several factors when determining an alimony award. In most cases, courts award spousal support in order to allow the receiving spouse time to become financially independent and establish themselves.

There are different types of alimony and the laws regarding alimony vary by state. In most cases, a spouse may request support including:

  • Temporary support while a divorce is pending;
  • Rehabilitative support to cover their expenses until the receiving spouse becomes self-supporting;
  • Reimbursement support where the spouse paying support pays back any money the spouse receiving support paid towards their education or work advancements; and
  • Payment support, which is ordered in cases where the receiving spouse is not likely to become financially independent.

Can Cohabitation Affect Spousal Support after Divorce?

Whether or not cohabitation affects spousal support after a divorce depends on the laws of the state.

However, in general, many states including California and Connecticut have enacted statutes that allow for the reduction, suspension, or termination of spousal support, also known as alimony, if the recipient resides with a third party.

What Happens with the Receiving Spouse Cohabitates with Another Individual?

Most states have rules that terminate alimony when a receiving spouse remarries. If an ex-spouse begins cohabitating with someone new, the court may still terminate alimony. However, this depends on the state and the specific circumstances of the case.

The majority of states will reduce or terminate alimony payments if cohabitation significantly decreases the receiving spouse’s need for support payments. For example, if an ex-spouse is cohabitating with a new partner who is unemployed and has no money, the court may not terminate the obligation of the paying spouse.

In other states, alimony will be terminated regardless of whether or not the cohabitation impacts the economic status of the recipient. In some cases, a court may evaluate factors to determine whether the cohabitation is a marriage-like relationship, including:

  • The length of the relationship;
  • The amount of time the individuals spend together;
  • The nature of the activities the couple engaged in;
  • The interrelation of their personal affairs;
  • If they shared vacations; and
  • If they spend holidays together.

In states that do not have laws or specific court decisions discussing the impact of cohabitation on alimony, it may be difficult to predict how a court will decide on the issue. Regardless of the laws of the state, if a receiving spouse and a paying spouse had an agreement that alimony would not be affected by a spouse cohabitating with someone new, the agreement will be enforceable and alimony will continue. It is important to note that the individual requesting a change in alimony payments must show that the other spouse’s situation has significantly changed.

What Kind of Cohabitation Will Disqualify Me from Receiving Spousal Support?

As noted above, whether or not an individual will be disqualified or suspended from receiving spousal support depends on the laws of their state and their particular situation. States that have enacted statutes regarding cohabitation and spousal support vary regarding the actual definition of cohabitation and its effect.

For example, Pennsylvania cohabitation statutes speak only to residing with members of the opposite sex. Other states, such as Georgia, do not specify the sex of the third party cohabitant.

Will Living with My Ex-Spouse Disqualify Me From Receiving Spousal Support?

No, living with an ex-spouse will most likely not disqualify an individual from receiving alimony. However, it is important to consult with a local attorney to determine how the laws of that state view the situation.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Spousal Support Issue?

It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced family lawyer for your spousal support issue. If you are seeking to establish or modify spousal support, an attorney can help.

Your attorney can review your situation and advise you of your rights under the laws of your state. Your attorney will also represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.