When a couple gets divorced in California, the court will sometimes order one spouse to pay the other “alimony,” or payments of financial support. When the spouse who receives alimony payments (the “supported spouse”) gets remarried, however, he or she may no longer need financial support. Also, the spouse paying alimony (the “paying spouse”) will likely want to end alimony payments once the ex has a new spouse in the picture.
This article explains how the remarriage or cohabitation of a supported spouse affects alimony in California. If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony in California after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.
In California, alimony, also called “spousal support” usually takes the form of monthly payments from one ex-spouse to the other, either for a specific period of time or until certain events occur. Alimony may also be paid in a lump sum, by a transfer of property, or by direct payment of other expenses (such as a mortgage). Courts will award alimony to provide monetary assistance to a low-earning or unemployed spouse, based on each spouse's financial circumstances.
Many types of alimony or short term and have a clear end date. Some couples spell out a date upon which alimony will end in their marital settlement agreement and/or court order. If there is no mention of a termination of alimony in a settlement agreement or final court order, then alimony may continue until the death of either party.
A common question that arises for divorced couples is whether the supported spouse's remarriage will bring an end to alimony payments. If the supported spouse decides not to get married, but lives with a new partner and shares income and expenses like a married couple, will that spouse still be entitled to collect spousal support?
If the marital settlement agreement and divorce order are silent on this subject, the parties will have to rely on California law to answer these questions.
In California, the obligation to pay alimony automatically ends when the supported spouse gets remarried. Even if the paying spouse voluntarily continues to pay alimony after the other spouse gets remarried, there is no legal obligation to continue paying alimony.
If the supported spouse’s remarriage is annulled (because the remarriage was void due to the new spouse’s bigamy, coercion, insanity, and so on), the court can decide whether alimony should begin again, based on what is fair to both spouses.
If your agreement states specifically that alimony will continue to be paid regardless of whether the supported spouse gets remarried, you will not be able to modify or end alimony. Also, if your agreement provides for alimony in a lump sum or transfer of property, the supported spouse’s remarriage will have no effect on the alimony agreement.
When a supported spouse gets remarried, alimony ends. However, if a supported spouse is simply living with someone else, or has an increase in income, the paying spouse needs a court order to lower or end alimony payments.
If you are paying alimony and your ex-spouse is living with someone else or has increased income, you should ask your ex-spouse to agree to lower or end alimony by agreement. You can sign an agreement and file it with your divorce court to modify or terminate alimony.
If you would like to modify or terminate alimony, but your ex-spouse won’t agree, you should file a motion to modify or terminate alimony with the court that granted your divorce. You’ll need to state how circumstances have changed and why that warrants a modification or termination of alimony. For example, your spouse’s increase in income, your spouse’s lowered needs, or your spouse’s living with another person in a romantic relationship may all qualify as a “change in circumstances” that the court can use to lower or end your alimony payments.
Under California law, there is a rebuttable presumption that alimony can be lowered, and possibly ended, when the supported spouse is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex. The rebuttable presumption means that the court will presume alimony should be reduced or terminated unless the supported spouse can prove a continuing need for alimony payments after he or she begins living with someone of the opposite sex.
If the supported spouse will not agree to lower or end alimony, the paying spouse can file a motion asking the court to order the change. The court won’t consider the income of the person with whom the supported spouse is living when deciding whether to lower or end alimony, only the supported spouse’s new financial circumstances.
Cohabitation is more than a roommate relationship; it usually requires a personal romantic relationship. However, if the supported spouse is living in a roommate situation, the court may still decide that his or her need for support has decreased, and may still modify alimony.
If you have additional questions, consult with a California family law attorney.