Alimony: When does Cohabitation Terminate Alimony?
Alimony can be challenged if the recipient is cohabitating or engaged in a supportive relationship with another. However, determining what constitutes a supportive relationship is not always clear. To find a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant a reduction or the termination of alimony based on cohabitation, a trial court is required to consider whether either of the following two factors is present: (1) whether the cohabitant provides support to the recipient spouse, or (2) whether the recipient spouse contributes to the support of the cohabitant. Murphy v. Murphy, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2283 (Fla. 3d DCA November 6, 2013).
Obviously, if a spouse receiving alimony enters into an arrangement which involves living with a member of the opposite sex, that is rather clear evidence of a supportive relationship with a cohabitant. However, it is often not as straightforward as one would think. For example, in 2008, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that the Former Wife who was in jail was cohabitating with her cellmate, which warranted a reduction or termination of spousal support. Craissati v. Craissati, 997 So. 2d 458 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008)
We have also had cases where a former spouse attempts to terminate alimony because the other party is living with a family member. However, this does not qualify as supportive relationship because Florida Statute 61.14 specifically excludes family members from the definition of those that a party can engage in a supportive relationship.
A supportive relationship is a relationship that “[t]akes the financial place of a marriage and necessarily decreases the need of the obligee.” Overton v. Overton, 34 So. 3d 759, 761 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010) (quoting French v. French, 4 So. 3d 5, 6 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009)). Financial support alone, however, does not define a supportive relationship. See Linstroth v. Dorgan, 2 So. 3d 305, 306 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). As a matter of law, section 61.14(1)(b), Florida Statute, requires the court to determine if an alimony obligee has entered into a relationship that provides the economic support equivalent to a marriage, and if so, the court may reduce or terminate alimony.
The rationale behind this is logical. Alimony terminates upon remarriage of the spouse receiving alimony, so why allow that same spouse to continue to receive alimony simply by avoiding acquiring a marriage license. Allowing a party to do so would essentially constitute double dipping given that they are enjoying the many benefits of marriage, such as engaging in a financially supportive relationship with a spouse, while still collecting alimony from a previous spouse, which would be inequitable to the parties.
The person seeking to terminate or modify alimony has the burden of proving the supportive relationship by a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, extensive discovery may be necessary to establish that the parties are engaged in a supportive relationship as is defined by Florida Statutes.