Cohabitation and Spousal Support

Hossein Berenji, Dec 02, 2020

The California Family Code § 4323 allows a “rebuttable presumption” that spousal support can be decreased if the supported party is cohabitating with someone else.

What is Cohabitation?

Cohabitation refers to living with a non-marital partner with which there is an intimate, personal relationship. California law does not provide a standard definition of cohabitation, but for the purposes of modifying or terminating alimony, the cohabitating couple must have financial interdependence. Case law defines cohabitation as living together as man and wife without the requirement of marriage.

Some evidence that a couple is cohabitating can include:

  • Investing in real estate together
  • Renovating a property together
  • Using the same mailing address
  • Financially contributing to the support of each other
  • Purchasing other personal property jointly

The court will not take into consideration the income of the cohabitating partner. However, the court can consider what share of the expenses the partner is paying and how that money impacts the recipient’s need for alimony to maintain their standard of living.

There are other means to prove that two people are cohabitating, and a skilled divorce attorney will be able to help you understand if the situation is viable for a reduction or termination of alimony.

Will Spousal Support End With Cohabitation?

Spousal support is awarded in California during the divorce process to help a spouse or domestic partner continue living without the higher-income spouse’s income. It can be awarded for a specific time, ranging from months to years, or awarded for an indefinite period.

Spousal support is awarded based on a number of factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The earnings of each spouse
  • The health and age of each partner

Spousal support ends when the receiving spouse remarries, which serves to induce cohabitation without marriage.

Cohabitation is Not Automatic Grounds for Modification of Spousal Support

Even if you can prove cohabitation, you will still need to file a Modification of Spousal Support with the court. The court will analyze the factors and hear evidence rebutting the presumption of the reduced need for spousal support.

The marital standard of living tells the court how much money is needed for the spouse to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the last years of the marriage. The longer the marriage, the more difficult it is to be awarded a modification or termination of spousal support.

It is common for the cohabitating party to attempt to convince the court that they do not rely on the financial support of the new partner. A California family law attorney experienced in divorce law will be able to tell you what information you need to produce to be successful in your attempt to modify or terminate support.

Arguments Against an Alimony Modification Request Based on Cohabitation

The first and most frequently encountered argument against reducing or eliminating alimony for a cohabitating spouse is asserting that it is a roommate relationship. Roommate relationships and temporary arrangements make it easier for the supported spouse to maintain their need for spousal support.

The cohabitating ex-spouse can assert that the cohabitating relationship does not reduce their need for alimony. If reasonable expenses at the time of the initial judgment remain near the same, then the cohabitating spouse argues that their need has not changed, and nor should the spousal support.

If the cohabitating ex-spouse can show that the cohabitating relationship was in existence at the time of the most recent order, then the argument can be made that there was no change in circumstances.

Spousal support is complex under California law, and much discretion is left up to the court. Whether you are paying or receiving support, a skilled Los Angeles divorce lawyer experienced in California family law is necessary when returning to court for a modification of support order.