Cohabitation Clauses in Your MSA and Termination of Alimony / by Cassandra Hearn

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It is more and more common for court cases to settle out of court. This holds especially true with family law cases, such as divorce or child custody. Settling a case before trial allows the parties to make their own provisions that are suited to their family and their needs. Creating a custom-made settlement agreement gives the parties a lot of freedom to make their own decisions about how their futures will be shaped by their divorce. Spousal support is a common issue in divorces, especially where the parties have been married for a long time. Spousal support is designed to help even the playing field so that the economically disadvantaged spouse has time to bring his or her earning capacity up to continue on in a reasonable standard of living as compared to what he or she enjoyed during the marriage. However, it is common for the person receiving spousal support to move on after the divorce and start living with a new boyfriend or girlfriend. Your settlement agreement, or “MSA,” may contain a clause that addresses this exact situation.

A “cohabitation clause” typically will provide that spousal support payments will stop if the receiving spouse starts to cohabitate with a new person after the entry of the divorce decree. Although this sounds relatively simple, a key issue here will be the definition of cohabitation and whether the receiving spouse’s new situation meets that definition. If a receiving spouse merely has a new roommate, this will likely not fit the bill, and the paying spouse will continue to be obligated to pay pursuant to the provisions of the MSA. A court can look at a wide variety of factors when deciding whether a person is cohabitating, such as whether they share bank accounts, how they describe their relationship to other people, and whether they share in large purchases or investments together. If there is a cohabitation clause in your MSA, you will also want to pay close attention to whether the MSA contains instructions on whether the payments will stop automatically. In the absence of an MSA, a paying spouse is required to return to court to modify a spousal support order if the receiving spouse starts to cohabitate with a new love interest. Therefore, if your MSA is silent on the issue of how and when the payments stop in the event of cohabitation, you likely will have to return to court to stop or modify your spousal support obligation.

There are many advantages to settling before a final hearing, but you need an experienced attorney to help guide you through potential important issues. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 if you are facing divorce or separation, and we can help you with your case and your future