Client Compass, Divorce Law Monitor

Definition of Cohabitation Set in Recent Alimony Reform Act Interpretation

June 23, 2016


The latest in a series of cases interpreting and clarifying the Alimony Reform Act of 2011 has just been decided. Duff-Kareores vs. Kareores was decided by the Supreme Judicial Court on June 15, 2016.

What’s the Story?

The parties were married in 1995, had two children and divorced in 2004. They then lived separately, complying with their divorce agreement, until they began living together as a family again in 2007. They remarried in December 2012. Alas, things didn’t work out as planned, and the wife filed for a second divorce in June of 2013.

The Alimony Decision

The trial judge held that the length of their marriage, for the purpose of determining the alimony term under the Alimony Reform Act, ran from the date of their first marriage till the service of the second divorce. This included the period when they were living separately, under the terms of a divorce agreement, in the calculation of time that alimony in the new divorce would last. Not surprisingly, this was appealed.

The Supreme Judicial Court wanted to decide this case, so they took jurisdiction from the Appeals court. In what is a very common-sensical decision, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the time when the parties weren’t living together could not be counted as cohabitation.

Why Is Cohabitation Important?

Cohabitation, economic marital partnership, and common household are important terms in the Alimony Reform Act. The Act provides for suspending, reducing or ending alimony based on cohabitation. The length of time alimony is paid considers cohabitation as well. Duff-Kareores vs. Kareores clarified more than the simple proposition that a period of non-cohabitation does not count for determining the length of alimony. Judge Duffly gave a lengthy explanation of exactly how to define cohabitation. The fact pattern in this case is relatively rare… not a lot of people divorce, separate, cohabitate, remarry and then divorce again! However lots of cases are filed dealing with termination or suspension or reduction of alimony based on the alimony recipient’s cohabitation.

So Then, What Is the Definition of Cohabitation?

The Alimony Reform Act sets out a relatively complete description of the factors that go into a determination of cohabitation. Cohabitation is now defined as a relationship that is similar but “is not equivalent to” a legal marriage. The parties must live together, be economically entwined, and appear to the world at large to be a partnership.






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