Individuals with alimony obligations may have felt a glimmer of hope with the passing Alimony Reform Act of 2014, which appeared to clarify many long-standing legal dilemmas concerning the maintenance, modification and termination of alimony. While the amended statute did elucidate many aspects of the state's alimony laws, it also gave rise to many questions concerning concepts such as “cohabitation”. Prior to the amendment, alimony was defined by the New Jersey Supreme Court as, a relationship which “bears the generic character of a family unit as a relatively permanent household”. This definition relates primarily to couples who are living together, as well as couples who have “undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage.”
With the passing of the amendment, cohabitation is now defined as a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which a couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage or civil union but does not necessarily maintain a single household.” The specific language pertaining to a shared household is critical, since many couples in long-term relationships share many responsibilities and holdings such as living expenses, household chores and bank accounts, even if they don't live together. In addition, a judge examining an allegation of cohabitation is required to consider various factors such as the recognition of the relationship by the couple's family and social circle.
So, this is good news for alimony payers whose exes have moved onto a new relationship, right? Unfortunately, showing that two parties are in a state of cohabitation can be incredibly challenging. On the one hand, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever to keep up with what your ex is doing. On the other hand, it's up to the judge to determine whether those images and comments imply a state of cohabitation. Another option is to hire a private investigator, but that can be rather costly, considering that you would need a considerable amount of photos and footage to show that the couple's lives are intertwined in a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship.”
Even if you do manage to prove that your ex is in a state of cohabitation, a judge will still have to decide whether alimony should be terminated or suspended, since the statute specifically mentions “suspension”. In that case, when should the suspension occur, and for how long? Should alimony be suspended while the recipient is cohabitating, then resume once he or she is no longer in a relationship? Should it be resumed if the recipient appeals, and is able to prove that he or she is not in a state of cohabitation? These questions are unlikely to be answered anytime soon, but they are undeniably important considering the exact wording of the statute.
Regardless of these issues, the amended alimony statute does open up modification possibilities for many alimony payers throughout New Jersey. For more information about your alimony obligation rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.