One of the key parts of the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act, enacted by the State Legislature in 2014, was the addition of a provision which authorizes the suspension or termination of alimony upon an ex-spouse’s “cohabitation” with a new significant other.
Significantly, the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act makes it clear that “cohabitation” does not require that the alimony recipient maintain a single common household with the new significant other or to live with that person on a full-time basis.
Instead, the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act requires New Jersey family law courts to consider the following factors:
(1) Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
(2) Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;
(3) Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle;
(4) Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
(5) Sharing household chores;
(6) Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person within the meaning of subsection h. of R.S.25:1-5; and
(7) All other relevant evidence.
However, neither the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act nor the New Jersey family law court decisions which preceded it did not address the issue of whether it matters if the cohabitation was only temporary.
This issue was recently decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in a case entitled Quinn v. Quinn.
When Mr. and Mrs. Quinn had divorced in 2006 after 23 years of marriage, Mr. Quinn was earning about $209,000 per year and Mrs. Quinn was earning only about $21,500 per year. They then entered into a Settlement Agreement which provided Mrs. Quinn with alimony of about $68,500 per year. The Settlement Agreement specifically stated that this alimony would terminate upon Mrs. Quinn’s cohabitation.
In March 2010, Mr. Quinn filed a motion seeking to terminate his alimony obligation, because Mrs. Quinn was cohabiting with another man.
The New Jersey family court trial judge found that Mrs. Quinn had cohabited from January 2008 through April 2010—after Mr. Quinn had filed his motion—and ruled that she must reimburse him for over $145,000 in legal fees and costs which he had incurred.
However, because the cohabitation was not permanent, the judge suspended–rather than terminated–Mr. Quinn’s alimony obligation for the cohabitation period and permitted him to make reduced alimony payments going forward until he had been reimbursed for the alimony payments he had made for that period and his legal fees and costs.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the trial judge’s decision and ordered the alimony termination which the parties had agreed to at the time of their divorce.
The Supreme Court said that a Settlement Agreement entered into at the time of a New Jersey divorce is no different from an agreement to resolve a business dispute and that a New Jersey Family Court “should not rewrite a contract or grant a better deal than that for which the parties expressly bargained.”
The Court added that, unless the language of the New Jersey Settlement Agreement is ambiguous or must be modified because of “unconscionability, fraud, or overreaching in the negotiations,” the Settlement Agreement must be enforced as written.
Salvaggio Law Group devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Family Law matters, including those related to alimony. If you want to talk, please call us at 973-455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our firm’s website.