Cohabitation Ends Alimony In Post-Judgment Modification Matter
- July 3, 2014
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In a recent post-judgment modification case, Syslo v. Syslo, the Plaintiff, Ann Marie Syslo, lost her appeal from a 2013 Family Court decision which granted the Defendant, Raymond Syslo’s request to terminate his alimony obligation because she cohabitated with another person. The facts of the case are as follows. The Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 1990 and subsequently the couple were divorced in 2004. Three children were born of the marriage, the youngest of which still resides with the Plaintiff. Currently, the Defendant is obligated to pay $210 a week in child support. When the parties’ decided to obtain a divorce, the Defendant agreed to pay to the Plaintiff $70 a week in alimony. That obligation was increased to $225 a week in 2007. Around 2010, the Defendant began trying to gather proof that the Plaintiff was co-habitating with another person. To do this, he hired a private investigator and began to film the cohabitant staying at the Plaintiff’s residence overnight. He accumulated documentary evidence for about thirty-five days taking place in October of 2010, September of 2011, and March and April of 2012. These videos also revealed that the cohabitant possessed a key to the Plaintiff’s residence, which he used to enter the home both when the Plaintiff was in the home and when she was not there. The cohabitant also drove the Plaintiff’s car from time to time and transported the Plaintiff’s child to different places and had opened joint bank accounts with the Plaintiff. Further, the Defendant was able to obtain evidence that the cohabitant received mail at the Plaintiff’s home. As a result of this information and the testimony of the parties’ emancipated children as well as that of the alleged cohabitant and Plaintiff, a Family Court judge found that the Defendant was able to establish that there was cohabitation. Konzelman v. Konzelman, 307 N.J. Super. 150 (App. Div. 1998). According to the judge, the Plaintiff and cohabitant acted like a “relatively permanen[t]” family unit, with the assumption of the duties and obligations “associated with marriage.” Pursuant to this finding, the judge terminated the Defendant’s alimony obligation effective on the date of the entry of the Order. The Plaintiff appealed this decision and argued that the trial court erred by finding that she had cohabitated within the legal understanding of the word. The Appellate Court affirmed the findings of the Family Court. According to the Appellate Division, it is well established that the cohabitation of a spouse who is receiving alimony constitutes a change in circumstances that may relieve the payor spouse from his or her alimony obligation. Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149, 155 (1983). The cohabitation relationship must be more than simply an intimate relationship, it must also include that the parties engage in “duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage.” Konzelman, 158 N.J. at 202. Some factors for consideration include if the parties share living expenses and household chores, intertwined finances, and recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle. In the current case, the court found that the evidence on the record amply supported the Family Court judge’s determination that cohabitation was established. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony award based upon cohabitation or any other relief that was awarded in a final judgment of divorce it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modification, divorce, alimony, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.