In New Jersey, alimony payers are no longer required to meet all the factors of “cohabitation” when filing an application to terminate or suspend alimony due to cohabitation.
On August 9, 2023, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that if someone wants to stop paying alimony because their former spouse is cohabitating with someone else, they don’t have to provide evidence for all of the cohabitation factors when presenting their prima facie case for cohabitation.
What Does “Cohabitation” Mean in NJ?
For some background into why this ruling is so important, the NJ Court had previously decided that in order for someone to terminate or suspend alimony, they must first make a prima facie showing (in other words, present evidence) that the alimony receiver is living or “cohabitating” with another person.
This was reflected in the alimony statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34- 23(n), and the Court’s 1999 holding in the case Konzelman v. Konzelman, in which several factors that the alimony payer must prove are listed.
What Exactly Are NJ’s “Cohabitation” Factors?
The cohabitation factors include the following:
- Mutual economic benefit, such as joint bank accounts, investments, or debts.
- Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses.
- Familial and social recognition of the relationship.
- Living together, contact frequency, relationship duration, and other evidence of an intimate, mutually supportive relationship.
- Sharing household chores.
- If the alleged cohabiting person has given the alimony receiver an enforceable promise of support.
- All other relevant evidence indicative of a cohabiting relationship.
However, with the holding from the new case Cardali v. Cardali, the Court has ruled that the alimony payer doesn’t have to provide evidence for all of these factors to establish a prima facie case.
Why Is Cardali v. Cardali Relevant?
In the breaking case Cardali v. Cardali, Suzanne Cardali and Michael Cardali had entered into a Property Settlement Agreement in 2006. According to their agreement, Michael was supposed to pay alimony to Suzanne, but alimony would end if she started living or “cohabitating” with someone else.
Michael filed a motion in 2020, using multiple pieces of evidence from his private investigator to claim that Suzanne and her partner, Bruce McDermott had been in a marriage-like relationship for over 8 years. However, while Michael did provide proof of some of the previously described cohabitation factors, he did not have evidence that Suzanne and Bruce had “intertwined finances” like joint bank accounts or that the two were sharing living expenses.
So, even though Michael had proof that Suzanne and Bruce went to family and social events together, took vacations together, and carried groceries, personal belongings, and laundry out of one another’s homes, the trial court did not believe Michael had provided enough evidence of cohabitation under NJ law, and thus he was denied the ability to move forward with his motion to terminate alimony. Under the existing system from Konzelman and the state alimony statute, the trial court denied Michael’s motion and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court decision. Michael appealed to the Supreme Court.
Once the case reached the NJ Supreme Court, the justices decided because neither Konzelman nor the state alimony statute outright state that the alimony payer has to prove every single cohabitation factor, the information Michael presented in his motion was enough to make a prima facie showing of cohabitation, even though he didn’t have any information on their finances.
So, What Does the Result of Cardali v. Cardali Mean for Alimony Payers in NJ?
The NJ Supreme Court has ruled that an alimony payer does not have to prove all the factors of cohabitation in order to make a prima facie showing of cohabitation. This holding thus loosens the initial burden of proof on alimony payers when they are seeking to stop paying alimony due to their former spouse’s cohabiting relationship.
Where Can I Find Legal Support for My Alimony or Cohabitation Issue?
Maria A. Giammona Law has been providing caring and compassionate representation for family law matters in Totowa, Wayne, West Milford, Woodland Park and throughout Passaic County for over 20 years. We’ll look at every aspect of your situation and help you find the best strategy for your family. Please call us at 973-922-1035 to schedule a free consultation!