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Does Cohabitation Impact Spousal Support?

Posted by Mariya Furman | Mar 15, 2023

After a California divorce, one spouse might owe spousal support, called “alimony,” to the other to maintain their standard of living.

Sometimes, due to the high cost of housing, some divorcing couples have no other financial choice but to remain living together or to cohabitate with others to reduce living expenses. Another option is to move in with a new intimate partner.

When this occurs, it's essential to understand how cohabitation can potentially impact spousal support obligations. But first, you need to know that cohabitation could limit your legal right to receive alimony.

Does Cohabitation Impact Spousal Support in California?

The primary purpose of alimony is to ensure that a lesser-earning spouse can maintain their standard of living once the divorce has been finalized because access to the other's spouse's income will no longer be available.

Simply put, the cost of housing in California could make it impossible for the lesser-earning spouse to afford it independently. Therefore, to award alimony, courts will review their living standard while married. Once awarded, the court can also check the current living situation of the receiving spouse for alimony termination or modification.

Suppose the receiving spouse lives by themselves after the divorce. In that case, spousal support payments will most likely continue as ordered by the family law court or through the divorce agreement.

On the other hand, suppose the receiving spouse starts living with another person.  In that case, the family law court could consider having the alimony amount reduced or terminated unless they can prove it's still needed.  

However, if the recipient of alimony in a California divorce starts cohabitating with another person post-divorce, it will not automatically affect their alimony.

In other words, alimony considerations by the court can get complicated, depending on the specific fine details. Therefore, you need a family law lawyer with experience protecting financial rights. Let's review this subject in more detail below.

What Exactly is Alimony in California?

In California, spousal support is known as “alimony.” While common, it's not automatic; it is only awarded when one spouse cannot financially support themselves to maintain the near standard of living while married.

Suppose alimony was addressed in their premarital agreement. In that case, the terms listed will usually be followed.

Likewise, suppose the divorcing couple can mutually agree on the terms of alimony. Again, in that case, the court will usually approve it unless there are unreasonable terms where one spouse takes advantage of the other.

Can Alimony Be Modified?

There are several ways for which alimony can be modified or terminated, such as the following:

  • Significant change in circumstances;
  • Remarriage;
  • Cohabitation.

While getting remarried could have an automatic impact on alimony, modifying or terminating alimony for other reasons will require filing a motion with the court.

One way is to claim there is a significant change in circumstances that justify a modification or termination of alimony, such as the following:

  • Change the receiving spouse's income or financial need;
  • Change the paying spouse's income;
  • Cohabitation with a new romantic partner.

Cohabitating with a new romantic partner is similar to marriage in the eyes of the court. Therefore, when a couple's alimony orders do not mention cohabitation, the issue has to be resolved per state law. In California, an obligation to pay alimony automatically ends without a court order when the receiving spouse is remarried.

What is a ‘Rebuttable Presumption”

Under California law, moving in with someone creates a rebuttable presumption for a decrease in the need for spousal support.

Courts assume that this type of change in circumstance will decrease the receiving spouse's financial need.

Simply put, if the recipient of alimony decides to cohabitate with a romantic partner, they must prove their financial need has not diminished by their cohabitation.

California Family Code 4323 (link) says, “(a)(1) Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a non-marital partner. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1.”

Notably, the relationship must be romantic for the court to consider modifying alimony, but the judge could also consider just moving in with a friend.

What Are the Primary Factors to Modify Alimony?

Before a family court reduces or terminates spousal support payments, they will consider some essential factors.

What Are the Primary Factors to Modify Alimony?

You will have to show that your alimony orders have changed to the degree that justifies a reduction in payments, such as the following:

  • If they are cohabitating with joint financial accounts;
  • If they are cohabitating with a shared property title or rental agreement;
  • If they are buying a home to live together.

Simply put, the more signs there are that your former spouse is cohabitating with a romantic partner as a married couple, the greater chance of having the alimony terms modified.

Notably, every case of potential spousal support modification is considered on a case-by-case basis, meaning you would be wise to retain experienced legal representation.

If your ex-spouse is living with somebody new and you have questions about how that can affect your monthly alimony payments, contact our Los Angeles divorce lawyers to review the details and legal options. We offer a free case evaluation. Furman & Zavatsky are located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County.

Related Content:

Can Dating Affect Spousal Support Payments?

About the Author

Mariya Furman

Attorney Mariya Furman is licensed to practice before all of the Courts of the State of California, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the United States District Court for the Central District of California. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Case Illinois I...

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