New Jersey Family Law Lawyers: New Jersey Supreme Court and also Statute Allow Cohabitation to Terminate Alimony Obligation

If you are paying alimony and think your spouse is cohabiting with someone else, there is hope for you.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Cathleen and David Quinn, who were married for 23 years, entered into a property settlement agreement that required Mr. Quinn to pay alimony, but required the termination of alimony payments if Mrs. Quinn began living with another man. According to unrefuted testimony in court, Mrs. Quinn cohabitated with another man for more than two years after her divorce was final. The court concluded that, because both parties were represented by counsel when they signed the agreement, and both voluntarily signed the property settlement, its terms were enforceable.

Writing for a 4-2 majority, Judge Mary Cuff opined that such agreements are “enforceable when the parties enter knowingly and voluntarily.” Justice Barry Albin, on behalf of the dissenting judges, said that property settlement agreements that allow for termination of alimony in cases of cohabitation are “instruments of oppression” that should only address economic issues, and shouldn’t “contain shackles that deprive a spouse of the right to seek love and companionship.”

According to court records, Mr. Quinn was paying his wife nearly $70,000 per year in alimony when the dispute arose regarding her cohabitation with another man. When Mr. Quinn filed a motion to terminate alimony payments, the matter went to trial, where the court ruled that Mr. Quinn should be reimbursed for any amounts he paid while his ex-wife was living with another man, but refused to terminate the obligation completely. Both sides appealed, with Mr. Quinn’s attorneys arguing that the obligation should be treated like a contract, with the cohabitation considered a breach of contract. The Supreme Court agreed with that argument.

There also are statutory grounds to terminate alimony. Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, if a spouse proves that the other spouse is cohabiting in a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship in which the couple has undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with a marriage or civil union,” then alimony can end.

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