Effect of Cohabitation on Alimony After a New Jersey Divorce
In a recent New Jersey appellate case, a couple who’d married in 1999 got a divorce. They had one daughter who would be 14 as of the end of 2017. Their divorce judgment incorporated a property settlement agreement that they’d negotiated with the help of attorneys. It addressed all of their issues.
They filed an appeal related to how certain terms were to be enforced. One term required the husband to pay the wife limited duration alimony in the amount of $21,000 each year for six years starting in 2012. Another term ended the alimony obligation if the wife cohabitated with another person under New Jersey law. Another term described the protocol for custody and decision-making related to health and emotional well-being. The parties were prohibited from doing things to alienate or color the child’s attitude toward the other parent. Instead, they were supposed to cooperate to make it easier for the child to adjust to the circumstances. The exes were also supposed to consult on major decisions related to education, welfare, safety, and health.
The father filed a motion to terminate alimony, claiming the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated man. He also tried to modify the parenting time arrangement from one in which the mother served as the parent of primary residence to a shared custody arrangement because he’d recently bought a house with a separate bedroom for his daughter.
The mother filed a cross-motion, opposing the father’s application and trying to compel him to pay his fair share of extracurricular activities, give proof of maintaining life insurance, and stop making disparaging remarks about the mother’s Russian cultural background in front of the child. The only evidence presented on either side was the couple’s conflicting certifications.
The judge denied the motions. He found that the father didn’t state enough facts to show cohabitation within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n). The judge also determined that the defendant hadn’t shown facts sufficient to make a case of changed circumstances.
The father claimed that the mother had an ongoing romantic relationship with a coworker for the past 10 years. The boyfriend rented the top floor of the two-family house where the mother lived and occupied the bottom floor. The mother denied that the relationship with the coworker was 10 years. She admitted that the man she was dating was renting the other apartment, and she said that they were neighbors rather than cohabitants. She denied other remarks about the relationship made by the father.
The court explained that cohabitation involves an intimate personal relationship in which a couple has taken on privileges associated with marriage, even if they didn’t necessarily maintain a single common household. Whether determining whether cohabitation was happening, the court was to consider intertwined finances like a joint bank account and other joint holdings or liabilities, sharing responsibilities for living expenses, recognizing the relationship in a family and social circle, frequency of contact and living together, sharing household chores, and an enforceable promise of support.
The motion judge determined that the mother was in a long-term romantic relationship with someone to whom she wasn’t related but with whom she lived. The court found that the motion judge had made a mistake in not giving the father the opportunity to perform limited discovery to gain evidence to prove his case. The court also agreed with the father that the motion judge had made a mistake in failing to address the factors in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4 related to changing the custody arrangement. The ruling was reversed and sent back.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about your financial security, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive alimony attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.