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Meaning of Cohabitation in Family Law Support Cases

Meaning of Cohabitation in Family Law Support Cases

Posted on July 10th, 2014

In a recent, unpublished case IRMO Wollard (2nd Dist., Div. 6, January 14, 2014), the California Court of Appeals heard a case involving a post-judgment motion relating to a former wife’s cohabitation with another man.  The case had to do with modification proceedings stemming from a spousal support order in a divorce judgment.  The parties judgment required the Husband to pay the Wife $4000 per month in non-modifiable spousal support, or alimony, which would end only upon either party’s death, or Wife’s remarriage or cohabitation.  Wife was required to notify Husband if she began cohabiting with someone after the divorce judgment was entered.

In 2000, Wife began exclusively dating a man and they engaged in 2004.  Wife and Keith often shared a home, they purchased a boat together, and so on.  Husband found out about Wife’s new relationship in 2010, and filed a post-judgment motion to terminate spousal support in 2011.  He sought to not only end spousal support payments, but he asked the court to retroactively award him reimbursement of more than $250,000 in spousal support payments he had made to Wife from 2005 through 2011.  Husband was successful in his motion and Wife appealed.  Wife lost on appeal and the trial court’s order that Husband’s alimony obligation terminated he was due over $250,000 in reimbursed alimony payments was affirmed.  The case boiled down to the fact that Wife did not disclose her cohabitation beginning in 2005, which was required pursuant to the parties’ divorce decree.

“In deciding whether parties are cohabiting, courts consider the personal, financial, and residential aspects of the parties’ relationship. Cohabitation involves a committed personal relationship, which can be sexual or romantic, or a homemaker-companion relationship.” (Irmo Thweatt (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 530, 535.) Cohabitation also involves the sharing of significant finances or labor. (Irmo Geraci (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 1278, 1299; FC § 4323.) In most cases addressing cohabitation, the residential aspect of the relationship concerns payment for housing, with no dispute that the parties share housing. (See, e.g., Geraci, supra, at p. 1299.)  This means that the word “cohabitation”, which is referred to in the Family Code and in many parties’ family law orders and judgments, includes not only typically-thought of sexual relationships, but can mean something far more vague, such as a cohabitation where the parties are simply companions.

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