Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act and Cohabitation and Modification

It used to be that an alimony recipient could live with a significant other for years and purposefully never marry to avoid having alimony payments terminate, but now those days are over. On March 1, 2012 the Alimony Reform Act went into force and did away with this old practice. The new Alimony laws now contain a provision whereby alimony can be reduced, suspended, or terminated upon a showing that the recipient spouse has been cohabitating for three or more months. The Act defines cohabitating as “sharing a common household” and lists factors that may be considered in determining whether or not the spouse is cohabitating Although, the Act doesn’t specifically say that it’s looking for a romantic involvement, that is the interpretation as understood by most Judges and lawyers. Some relevant factors of the statute include; sharing a primary residence, economic interdependence, and representations made about being a couple.

The mechanism for terminating, suspending, or reducing alimony based on cohabitation is a complaint for modification. Indeed, if the recipient spouse was cohabitating before the law went into effect on March 1, 2012 you may not be able to ask the court for a modification of alimony based solely on the cohabitation, because nothing has really changed and the court requires a material change in circumstance to act. However, if there have been other financial changes you may be able to use those grounds to get into court and simultaneously deal with the issue of cohabitation.

The new alimony law does, however, leave a loop hole that many alimony recipients may try to use to their advantage. The new law allows for a reinstatement of alimony if the cohabitation ceases to exist. This brings to mind the scenario where the payor spouse files for modification and the other party moves out destroying the grounds for the modification. The best way to combat this probably might be to inform your former spouse that you intend to seek a modification of the order and negotiate from there.

While the new law does provide new forms of relief for those burdened with large and/or indefinite alimony payments it can also be a trap for the unwary. You should consult an attorney before filing anything with the court.