Alimony Termination Motion Upon Wife’s Cohabitation
- April 2, 2015
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G.M. v. A.M. is a case out of Sussex County, in which the Plaintiff appealed from a Court Order that denied his motion to terminate his alimony obligation to support the Defendant based upon her cohabitation with another man. The parties in this case separated in 2008 and formally divorced in 2009 after a twenty (20) year marriage. The Defendant vacated the marital home and the Plaintiff maintained physical custody of their three (3) sons. According to the parties’ divorce judgment the Plaintiff was to pay the Defendant alimony in the amount of $1,154.00 per month, which was to be taxable to the Defendant and deductible to the Plaintiff . The alimony was to be permanent alimony to terminate upon the Defendant’s death, Plaintiff’s death, the Defendant’s re-marriage, Defendant’s cohabitation with an unrelated adult in a relationship similar to a marriage or any other circumstance that would constitute a change of circumstances warranting a modification or termination of spousal support based upon the laws of New Jersey. Further, the Defendant was to pay child support to the Plaintiff in the amount of $650.00 per month for the children. Therefore, the Plaintiff was to pay $504.00 a month to the Defendant which reflected the alimony minus the child support amount. About eight (8) months after the parties’ were issued their divorce judgment, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to terminate his alimony obligation to Defendant and increase her child support obligation by $200 per month to address the special needs of their middle son. The Defendant responded with a Cross-Motion seeking alimony arrears and for the emancipation of the parties’ youngest son. In July of 2010, the Family Court entered an Order indicating that the Plaintiff had “shown a prima facie case” with respect to his request to terminate his alimony and allowed “discovery to demonstrate cohabitation,” and the parties were to exchange Interrogatories and Notice to Produce. Three (3) years later, in 2013, the court conducted a plenary hearing to adjudicate the Plaintiff’s Motion to terminate alimony based upon the Defendant’s cohabitation with another man. The trial court denied the Defendant’s application to rely on a document purporting to contain a legally binding definition of “cohabitation” that was materially different from the definition reflected in the parties’ divorce judgment. The court agreed with the Plaintiff’s argument that the “eleventh hour insertion of that issue into the mix denied him due process.” Therefore, the judge accepted the Plaintiff’s argument to review the Motion to terminate his alimony based upon the standards set forth in Konzelman v. Konzelman, 158 N.J. 185 (1999). A mere romantic, casual or social relationship is not sufficient to justify the enforcement of a settlement agreement provision terminating alimony. A relationship of cohabitation that can be shown to have stability, permanency, and mutual interdependence must be displayed. Based upon evidence presented at the hearing, the judge found that the Plaintiff failed to establish that the Defendant was cohabitating according to the aforementioned standard. The Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Appellate Division found that it had no legal basis to question the Motion judge’s factual findings or interfere with the legal conclusions he reached in his decision. The Plaintiff was not able to present sufficient, competent evidence to satisfy the standard to terminate his alimony obligation under Konzelman. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The laws governing alimony and cohabitation have recently been changed. It is very important that you seek out the advice of an attorney to protect your rights an entitlements. If you think that it may be beneficial for you to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation based upon your ex-spouse’s cohabitation with another person or for any other reason it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, divorce, post-judgment modification , emancipation, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.