When does cohabiting jeopardize the ability to continue receiving alimony from an ex-spouse?
It is not uncommon for one or both of the parties to a divorce to seek new companionship afterwards. But for recipients of alimony who decide to cohabit with a lover after the marriage has been dissolved, there may be an unhappy surprise. Under Pennsylvania law, their alimony rights may be terminated.
A Pennsylvania Statute Makes Some Cohabitation a Bar to Receiving Alimony
The relevant Pennsylvania statute states that, after divorce, cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex who is not a family member is a bar to receiving alimony. Because the purpose of alimony is to provide support for an ex-spouse, cohabiting and sharing living expenses can undermine its rationale.
The law seems clear and can bar alimony even when a couple lives together for only a brief time. Occasional visits and very short stays in the course of dating would probably not qualify as cohabiting, but longer periods of living together may create problems. In one case, a relationship that ended after two years of cohabiting led to termination of alimony payments.
Gray Areas in Meaning of Cohabiting
As stark as the statutory language may seem, there is still room for interpretation. While the statute refers to “cohabitation,” courts will often look at more than just a home address. There should be signs of interdependence, including shared financial and social lives. Factors they may consider include
- Shared residence
- Shared bank accounts and bills, including grocery, utility and other routine charges
- Household maintenance, including cleaning, yard work or other chores
- Exclusive dating. If the couple are seeing each other exclusively and holding themselves out as a couple, that would be an important factor.
- Childcare. If the parties to the relationship couple take care of each other’s children, this could also signify interdependent living.
Strategies for Providers and Recipients of Alimony
The bar to alimony for cohabitation gives both parties to a divorce a strong incentive to protect their financial interests. Those receiving alimony will want to avoid any signs of financial interdependence with a lover if they wish to keep receiving payments. Those paying alimony sometimes investigate ex-spouses, hiring private detectives to look into where they are living, who is living with them, their social media postings, changes in spending habits, and other indications of cohabitation.
Whether you are an ex-spouse concerned that your alimony could be jeopardized by a relationship or a provider of alimony who feels the payments should no longer be required, an attorney experienced in divorce and family law can advise you on how to protect your rights.