When does dating rise to the level of the legal ground for terminating or suspending alimony known as “cohabitation“? And what kind of evidence can prove that a spouse has entered into this deeper kind of relationship? A new court case takes a look.
Since the enactment of the Alimony Reform Act here in New Jersey a few years back, there has been a steady influx of cases regarding cohabitation and the termination of alimony brought before the courts. Cohabitation, under the new law, can be a trigger for the suspension or termination of alimony. Prior to the Act, the courts looked at old case law to determine what cohabitation is and when it happens. But, since the new law expressly mentions “cohabitation,” cases have been making their way in front of family court judges throughout the state, mostly brought by men paying alimony who want it to stop.
Alimony Termination & Modification
Take the case of Robitzski v. Robitzski, an unpublished New Jersey Appellate case decided this week. The Robitzskis were divorced and had a settlement agreement that stated that if Ms. Robitzski cohabited with another man, her alimony would be modified or terminated. The agreement did not define “cohabitation” nor did it specify the New Jersey law that covered the agreement in the event of a dispute. Ms. Robitzski had a relationship her new boyfriend, and, when the Alimony Reform Act was passed, Mr. Robitzski filed to end his alimony, claiming that they were cohabiting.
Alimony & Facebook
As proof that Ms. Robitzski was cohabiting with her boyfriend, Mr. Robitzski showed pictures from her boyfriend’s Facebook account that showed the couple together at various functions and with the divorced couple’s children, who called her boyfriend “Pap Thom.” Ms. Robitzski provided all of her financial records for approximately two years; records that showed Ms. Robitzski was paying all of her own bills and had no unaccounted for finances. She told the court that she and her boyfriend were not cohabiting and that he stayed overnight with her about 100 nights out of the year.
Is it Cohabitation?
The trial court did not agree with Mr. Robitzski and found that he had not proven that his ex-wife and her boyfriend were cohabiting or had any sort of “financial interdependency.” The court did not consider the Facebook posts, finding them to be hearsay and possible not authentic.
The Appellate Division agreed with Ms. Robitzski, as well. They did not discuss whether old case law or the new Alimony Reform Act governed this case, because, according to the court, Mr. Robitzski didn’t supply enough proof of cohabitation under old case law or the new Act. So, it was moot. The Appellate court did find that he did not prove comingling of funds, financial dependency or a promise to support Ms. Robitzski. They found that the couple did vacation together and socialize, but that they spent one weekend per month overnight. In sum, the Appellate court did not believe that Mr. Robitzski proved his ex-wife was cohabiting with her boyfriend.
Keeping Your Relationships Offline
It is without a doubt that we will be seeing more and more of these types of cases where social media is used or attempted to be used as proof of cohabitation. Attorneys are finding themselves cautioning their clients to be discreet with what they are posting on the internet. Even if they are not actually cohabiting with another, these types of postings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. may lead to unwanted litigation down the road.
And, as the New Jersey courts decide cases now and in the future regarding alimony and how to apply the new Alimony Reform Act of 2014, different interpretations of the new law are a given. What is certain is that you must provide solid proof to the court that your ex is really cohabiting with a new boyfriend or girlfriend in order to be successful in court.
Do you have questions about your spousal support agreement? If you are paying or receiving alimony and have questions about your rights and obligations, please contact us today to set up your initial consultation with one of our experienced and dedicated family law attorneys.
Types of New Jersey Alimony