Alimony, or spousal support, refers to financial payments made by one spouse to the other in the event of a legal separation or divorce. Alimony is often intended, depending on the rules of the state you live in, to help the spouse receiving payments maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle. They also help allow the spouse sufficient time to gain financial independence. If you earn substantially more money than your spouse, there is a good chance you will be ordered to pay alimony. However, alimony payments are not necessarily permanent.
Alimony can be terminated automatically if certain circumstances and conditions arise. For example, alimony may automatically terminate if the spouse receiving payments:
- Cohabitates (which means they move in with a new significant other); or
- Becomes financially independent or self-supporting.
Occasionally, in some states, the court may also determine a specified termination date.
The person making the alimony payments can also petition the court to end the payments. However, the court will consider several factors when making a determination of whether to terminate alimony. There may be certain conditions that would make the court more likely to allow the petition, such as if the person making payments:
- Loses their job (and thus is unable to pay);
- Suffers an illness making it harder for them to work;
- Would suffer extreme financial hardship if required to pay; or
- Would be unfairly treated if required to pay.
The party attempting to terminate alimony must show that either a condition exists that can automatically terminate the alimony or that they are so badly financially damaged by alimony payments that the payments must be stopped to prevent further harm. However, the court is unlikely to be swayed to terminate alimony if the paying spouse deliberately loses their job or resigns, or voluntarily takes a reduction in income.
Additionally, proving unfairness in court can be extremely difficult. A real financial hardship that would justify ending alimony payments would likely have to be so severe that the paying spouse cannot even continue with their normal activities.
Cohabitation is one of the grounds to automatically terminate alimony, and is a popular tactic for those seeking to end making payments. Exactly how cohabitation will affect your alimony payments, however, depends on the laws of your state. Most states will authorize either reduction or termination of alimony due to cohabitation only if the cohabitation significantly decreases the receiving spouse’s need for support. Other states will terminate alimony regardless of how the cohabitation affects the receiving spouse’s economic need.
The responsibility of proof lies with the person requesting the change in alimony. If the paying spouse is trying to terminate alimony on the grounds of cohabitation, then they must prove that the circumstances to terminate alimony exist. The problem is, cohabitation can be difficult to prove. Two people can live together as roommates without being under the umbrella of “cohabitation.”
Generally speaking, circumstantial evidence can be used to show cohabitation. If the two people live together, share expenses, and are generally recognized outside the home as a couple, this kind of evidence all points towards cohabitation.
Other factors that may indicate cohabitation include:
- The length of time the parties have been living together;
- Whether the parties share parenting duties (if there are children involved);
- Evidence of joint decision-making; or
- An improvement in the ex-spouse’s financial situation as a result of their new living arrangement.
As a note, living with your ex-spouse will probably not result in the termination of alimony. However, you should speak to a local family law attorney to learn exactly how such an arrangement will affect your situation. Additionally, although most states’ statutes specifically deal with heterosexual cohabitation, many states are willing to extend these rules to same sex couples, as well.
No. Once alimony is terminated, it cannot be renewed or resurrected. It is completely over for both parties. If the spouse receiving alimony wants to extend alimony beyond the designated termination date, they must request a modification of alimony before the termination date.
Requesting that alimony continue after the designated termination date will not be effective. If the spouse making alimony payments can prove one of the automatic conditions or financial difficulties, then alimony will be terminated and cannot be renewed later, even if their financial situation changes.
Any circumstance in the area of family law can become complicated very quickly. Attempting to terminate alimony is difficult under the best of circumstances. However, it can become your worst nightmare if your former spouse is uncooperative and does not want the alimony payments to end. It is in your best interests to consult an experienced family lawyer in order to get the help you need.
Your attorney can help you explore the options available to you, and guide you through the nuances of the legal system. Your attorney can also represent you in court if needed in order to protect your rights.