Sunday, June 22, 2014

My spouse is cohabitating.  Can I stop alimony payments?

In 2012, a new alimony law went into effect in Massachusetts. This alimony law contains a provision that reads:

General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payor shows that the recipient spouse has maintained a common household, as defined in this subsection, with another person for a continuous period of at least 3 months

This language seems to say that if the ex-spouse cohabits for three months or longer that alimony is automatically terminated, reduced, or suspended. However, that is an incorrect interpretation of this law.

The payment or non-payment of alimony is controlled by court orders. Unless and until a Judge orders termination or suspension of alimony existing orders must be obeyed. This means that alimony must continue to be paid until a judge issues an order that changes the existing orders. Some separation agreements and divorce decrees have language that automatically terminates alimony upon cohabitation. Other agreements can't be modified by a Judge and alimony must continue to be paid despite the cohabitation. The rest of the orders of alimony must be presented to a judge in the form of a modification action in which the relief sought is termination of alimony. This allows the judge to hear facts to determine if cohabitation has occurred. In some cases, a judge may reduce alimony instead of terminating the payments.


This is a complicated area of law. Wrongful termination of alimony can result in a judgment of contempt against the payor. Before taking a unilateral action that violates a court order a family law attorney should be consulted. Such an attorney can review the existing orders and evidence of cohabitation and advise on the parties rights and obligations concerning future alimony.

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