If you are paying or receiving alimony in California, you need to understand how payment obligations can be affected by a new relationship. The impact is not always easy to determine, depending on the circumstances. When either partner remarries, California law is pretty straightforward, but cohabitation situations often leave considerable room for interpretation.
An experienced family law attorney can assess how the laws apply in your particular situation. However, we can share some general guidelines to keep in mind.
When a Former Spouse Remarries
If what California law refers to as the “supported party”--the former spouse receiving alimony—gets remarried, then the law is clear. The obligation to pay alimony is terminated, unless the parties have a written agreement that says otherwise.
The “supporting party”—the former spouse that has been paying alimony–does not even need to petition the court for authorization to discontinue support payments. The termination is automatic.
The law is similarly clear when it comes to what happens if the spouse paying alimony remarries. Even if the new marriage increases the paying spouse’s household income, the court cannot consider that added income when assessing alimony amounts or determining whether alimony should be modified. The court also cannot consider the income of a cohabiting partner of the paying spouse. If the payor has a new relationship, that does not affect the support obligations.
Cohabitation of a Supported Spouse Opens the Door to Modification
In some states, spousal support obligations end if a receiving spouse moves in with a new partner. California law is a little more vague on the subject. The lack of a rigid rule can allow an attorney to present persuasive arguments to support your position on the issue.
The California statute addressing the subject says that when a supported party is “cohabiting with a nonmarital partner,” that creates a rebuttable presumption of a decreased need for spousal support. In other words, if a spouse receiving alimony starts living with a new partner, the spouse who is paying support can ask the court to modify or terminate support obligations, and the spouse who has been receiving support has the burden of proving that they still need it. When evidence of cohabitation is presented, the court will presume that the supported spouse doesn’t have as much of a need for support, so it is up to that spouse to prove otherwise.
If the parties have a written agreement requiring support to continue regardless of cohabitation, then that agreement overrides the presumption in the law, and support obligations will continue. But otherwise, there can be a tremendous disagreement about whether the supported spouse is truly cohabiting with a partner and whether the change in living situation has truly decreased the need for support.
What Does Cohabitation Mean?
There is no specific definition of what it means to cohabit with a nonmarital partner. The statute, Section 4323 of the California Family Code, specifies that a partner does not have to profess to be a spouse to be a cohabiting partner. The partners don’t need to pretend or act like they are married. However, courts have generally held that cohabitation requires a shared address and a certain degree of financial interdependence. Regularly spending the night together would probably not be sufficient.
But if you can show that an alimony recipient has been receiving financial support from a new partner and that the partners have been making purchases together, that can be evidence indicating cohabitation and a reduction in the need for alimony. Generally it is the reduction in expenses caused by shared housing, rather than income provided by the new partner, that would constitute a change in circumstances justifying the modification or termination of spousal support.
How to Handle a Request for Modification
Unlike the situation when a supported spouse remarries, termination or reduction of support is not automatic if the receiving spouse is cohabitating with a new partner. The party paying support must file a petition in court to modify support obligations. It will be necessary to present evidence to show a change in circumstances that justified modification. Showing that a supported spouse is cohabitating is part of that change, but it is also important to show why the need for support has decreased.
If you are receiving alimony and your former spouse petitions the court for a reduction or termination of your support payments, you need to prepare evidence to demonstrate why your circumstances still justify alimony. In either situation, it is very helpful to work with an attorney who understands the arguments courts find persuasive.
Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC Protects Your Interests in Alimony Determinations
Decisions regarding alimony are based on the unique facts and arguments presented in each case. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our Certified Family Law Specialists and associates have over 300 years of combined experience helping clients achieve beneficial results in alimony determinations and other family law matters. We invite you to schedule a confidential consultation to learn how we can help you reach your objectives for spousal support.