Alimony (also called spousal support or maintenance in some states) can help ease the heavy financial burden sometimes caused by divorce. There are different types of spousal support, including temporary or permanent. All types require one spouse (the "obligor” or “paying spouse”) to pay the other spouse (the "recipient” or “supported spouse”) a certain amount of money periodically or as a lump sum. The death of either spouse always results in an automatic end to alimony, but what about either spouse's remarriage? What happens if the supported spouse chooses not to remarry, but begins living with someone how provides some amount of financial support in the form of shared income or expenses?
This article provides an overview of the effects of remarriage and cohabitation on alimony payments in Arizona. If you have questions after reading this article, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Either spouse can file a request for alimony, and women are not advantaged over men when it comes to receiving support. Typically, the higher-earning spouse will be required to pay spousal maintenance if the supported spouse can demonstrate a reasonable financial need. Alimony isn’t a mandatory part of divorce and a judge will examine several factors before deciding that alimony is necessary:
Although Arizona doesn’t have a formula for calculating alimony, all of the above factors must be considered by a judge when creating an alimony award. Spousal maintenance will be awarded to a spouse who lacks sufficient property, who is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment, who contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse, or who had a long-term marriage and is of an age where it difficult to procure employment. If alimony is awarded, spousal maintenance can be paid periodically, as a lump-sum payment, or as a transfer of property.
The changed circumstances of either spouse can lead to changes in alimony. Some events will terminate alimony automatically, like death or remarriage. In all other cases, spousal maintenance can only be adjusted by petitioning the court. Either spouse may file a motion to modify alimony at any time after a divorce order has been issued. A substantial and continuing change, such as a job loss or new financial obligations, is required before any adjustments to spousal maintenance can be made.
While the modification motion is pending with the court, alimony payments must continue until the judge has issued a new alimony order. A judge can only adjust future alimony payments and no changes can be made to alimony already paid.
Cohabitation occurs when an ex-spouse enters a relationship with a new live-in partner to whom he or she is not married. While there is no bright-line definition of “cohabitation” in Arizona, generally the more closely the relationship resembles a marriage, the more likely the court will call it cohabitation.
Cohabitation, by itself, is not enough to terminate the obligation to continue paying alimony to the supported spouse. If a paying spouse suspects that his or her ex is cohabiting with a new partner, the first course of action is to file a motion to modify or terminate support. The paying spouse must show the court there has been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances since the original alimony order was entered. A court will also need to see evidence relating to the economic nature of the cohabitation, meaning the ex spouse and new partner share in expenses and support one another, and prove that ex-spouse's financial support needs have changed as a result of the cohabitation.
If, after a careful review of the financial circumstances of both parties, the court believes support should be modified, a judge will likely reduce alimony by the same amount of money a cohabiting partner is contributing to the supported spouse.
In Arizona, a supported spouse’s remarriage will end the obligation to pay future alimony. Past due and lump-sum alimony are usually still owed and must be paid. In very limited circumstances, a judge may allow spousal maintenance to continue after a spouse has remarried, but in most cases, a supported spouse’s remarriage will terminate spousal support. The paying spouse will need to file a motion to terminate alimony and inform the court of the marriage.
If an obligor spouse continues to pay alimony, not knowing that the supported spouse has remarried, he or she will be entitled to a refund of any monies paid after the date of the wedding. Even if a new marriage is later annulled or declared invalid, any alimony award that was extinguished by the remarriage can’t be reinstated.
An obligor spouse’s remarriage rarely affects alimony. A new spouse can bring added household expenses, but that typically won’t result in a reduction in spousal support. However, in cases where an obligor spouse can’t meet alimony obligations and his or her own financial needs after remarrying, the court will likely reduce support.
If you have additional questions about the impact of remarriage on alimony rights in Arizona, contact a local family law attorney for advice.