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NJ Supreme Court Clarifies Alimony Termination Based on Cohabitation

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is financial assistance paid after a divorce by one spouse to another based on need. Spousal support can be for a fixed number of years or can be permanent in certain cases. However, alimony ends early if the recipient spouse remarries or cohabitates with a romantic partner. Proving cohabitation can be difficult, as the New Jersey Supreme Court acknowledged in a recent case that gives needed clarification to the legal burden of proof.

For alimony termination purposes, cohabitation does not necessarily mean that the ex-spouse and his or her romantic partner have moved in together. It can consist of any committed, mutually supportive relationship in which the parties treat each other as exclusive. A New Jersey statute requires that a court consider these factors in deciding whether romantic partners are cohabiting:

  • Whether the couple’s finances are combined
  • Whether the couple shares living expenses
  • Whether the couple’s friends and family recognize their exclusive relationship
  • Whether the parties live together, and the duration of their relationship
  • Whether the couple shares household chores
  • Whether the new partner promises to support the recipient of alimony

However, the statute is not instructive as to how the court should apply those factors. An unresolved question had been whether the party seeking to terminate alimony needed to satisfy all these factors.

In Cardali v. Cardali, the Supreme Court ruled that a party who petitions to terminate alimony does not have to satisfy all of the statutory factors to make out a prima facie case. If the petitioner at the onset provides credible evidence as to some of the factors, the case can move forward to the discovery phase, in which more information can be gathered. Discovery involves submitting written questions to be answered by the opposing party (interrogatories), interviewing witnesses on the record (depositions) and examining the other party’s otherwise private information, i.e., bank statements, bills and other financial records.

The Cardali ruling should make it easier for ex-spouses to prove cohabitation for purposes of seeking termination of alimony obligations. Still, finding relevant evidence can be challenging and typically requires professional services, which sometimes include private investigators. A family law attorney experienced with alimony matters can provide invaluable assistance.

The Law Offices of Kisha M. Hebbon, LLC in Somerset is an established family law firm practicing throughout north and central New Jersey. If you have an alimony issue, contact us online or call 732-873-6464 for a free initial consultation.

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