Remarriage of a dependent spouse will terminate court-ordered alimony under North Carolina law. This applies to divorces both before and after October, 1995. However, remarriage only terminates future alimony payments. It does not excuse any overdue payments from before the remarriage. If support payments are subject to a separation agreement between the parties that has not been made part of a court order, then the terms of the agreement apply. Such an agreement may or may not include a clause that terminates support upon remarriage. If the agreement is incorporated into a court order, then it is modifiable by the court and the support obligation may be terminated on remarriage.
In North Carolina, for actions filed after October, 1995, post-separation support and alimony will also usually terminate when a dependent spouse “engages in cohabitation.” Alimony terminates when cohabitation has an economic impact on the dependent spouse. Public policy dictates that a supported spouse should not be able to avoid in bad faith the termination of alimony that would result from remarriage while engaging in a relationship that has most of the characteristics of remarriage.
“Cohabitation” means continuous and habitual living together with evidence of “the voluntary mutual assumption of those marital rights, duties, and obligations which are usually manifested by married people.” A North Carolina court of appeals decision found that “cohabitation” existed when a couple had been in a monogamous relationship for ten months and slept over up to five times per week. However, a court might also (in a rare case) find cohabitation to exist when the parties did not ever spend the night together. Factors such as whether the parties maintain separate residences, and where they keep personal belongings, are factors courts can consider. The more “rights, duties, and obligations” associated with cohabitation, the more likely it is to have an economic impact on the dependent former spouse, and the more it will appear that the dependent former spouse is avoiding the formalities of marriage primarily in order to continue receiving alimony.
Factors include how the members of the couple share household chores and child care duties, whether they have co-mingled their finances, how they hold themselves out to society, whether they go out in public together and attend worship services together, whether they vacation and spend holidays together, and even whether they kiss when leaving for work in the morning. However, activities such as walking the dependent party’s dog, parking in that party’s garage, moving furniture into the party’s home, carrying in groceries, spending 11 consecutive nights together, etc. were help not to support a finding of cohabitation.
Whether a relationship is exclusive and monogamous is an especially important factor in determining whether cohabitation exists. Actual sexual intercourse between the dependent spouse and the new partner is not required in order for there to be cohabitation that will terminate alimony. Living with roommates or family members is not considered “cohabitation,” although this can reduce a party’s expenses and have an impact on the amount of support, as discussed above. One difficulty is that cohabitation, unlike remarriage, may not have a definite start date. At the latest, courts will date the cohabitation to the date that one party brings a motion to terminate support based on it.
If you need to speak with a family law attorney concerning alimony and/or termination of alimony, contact Adkins Law. Adkins Law is located in Huntersville and primarily serves the Lake Norman area and Mecklenburg County.