New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Decision Clarifying Rules for Terminating Alimony
A new decision out of the New Jersey Supreme Court has eased the pathway for terminating alimony when the party receiving support can be shown to be cohabiting with a new partner. After the court’s decision in Cardali v. Cardali, decided just this past August, it’s now easier to get the issue before the court and get the tools needed to prove a case for ending alimony. Whether you are paying or receiving alimony in New Jersey, knowing about this case could be very relevant to you as you move forward with your life post-divorce. Read on to learn more about this monumental decision. For help with alimony and divorce in Essex, Middlesex, or Union County, or for assistance in a proceeding to modify or terminate alimony in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro to review your case with a knowledgeable and experienced Union family law attorney.
Termination of Alimony for Cohabitation Under New Jersey Law
Alimony, also known as maintenance or spousal support, is a common feature of many divorce cases in New Jersey. State law allows for alimony of a limited duration or permanently, depending on the need of the receiving party, the financial resources of the paying party, the duration of the marriage, and other factors. Whether alimony is awarded for a short term or indefinitely, the order can be terminated early under certain circumstances, including if the recipient moves in, or cohabits, with a new partner.
Getting the judge to end alimony based on cohabitation requires going to court and proving the recipient has entered into a “mutually supportive, intimate personal relationship” with another person. Proving cohabitation within the meaning of the statute is not always as easy as it sounds; a lot of the evidence, such as how the couple have intertwined their finances, their frequency of contact, and what they have told others about their relationship, lies in the possession of the other party. This evidence can be obtained through a legal process known as “discovery,” which is a critical phase in the litigation process required to suspend or terminate alimony, but even before one gets to the discovery phase, the party seeking to end alimony payments must first convince the judge that enough evidence exists for the judge to order discovery. This is known in the law as making a “prima facie” showing that cohabitation exists.
In 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the factors necessary to show cohabitation in the case of Konzelman v. Konzelman. The court said one must show the couple has “undertaken duties and privileges that are commonly associated with marriage.” A “romantic, casual or social relationship” is not enough.
Later, in 2014, the New Jersey legislature adopted a statute specifically outlining the factors necessary to prove cohabitation. Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n), the factors proving cohabitation are:
- Intertwined finances such as joint bank accounts and other joint holdings or liabilities;
- Sharing or joint responsibility for living expenses;
- Recognition of the relationship in the couple’s social and family circle;
- Living together, the frequency of contact, the duration of the relationship, and other indicia of a mutually supportive intimate personal relationship;
- Sharing household chores;
- Whether the recipient of alimony has received an enforceable promise of support from another person; and
- All other relevant evidence.
Enter Cardali v. Cardali
Now comes the case of Cardali v. Cardali, which was argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on April 25th and decided on August 8th of this year. Since the Cardali divorce occurred before the New Jersey was enacted, the court analyzed cohabitation against both the current statute and the analysis required by the Konzelman case.
In their property settlement agreement outlining the terms of their divorce, the Cardalis agreed that alimony would terminate if the ex-wife cohabitated within the meaning of New Jersey law. This case began when the former husband brought forward a motion to terminate alimony, alleging the existence of an ongoing, eight-year marriage-like relationship between the ex-wife and a companion. In support of his motion, Mr. Cardali produced evidence gathered by a private investigator who surveilled Mrs. Cardali and her partner for 44 days, observing them together every day and spending the night together more than half the time.
This evidence, however, did not satisfy either the lower court or the appellate court that Mr. Cardali had met all the factors required by either N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(n) or the Konzelman case. An appeal of those rulings brought the case before the New Jersey Supreme Court. In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, holding that Mr. Cardali had met his burden.
Importantly, this case sets the precedent that a moving party is not required to present evidence on every factor in Konzelman or 2A:34-23(n) in order to make a prima facie showing of cohabitation. As long as the movant addresses some of the relevant factors, supported by competent evidence, “the trial court should find that the movant has presented prima facie evidence of cohabitation and should grant limited discovery tailored to the issues contested in the motion…”
The Cardali case holds it is not necessary to provide evidence of a financial relationship between the alimony recipient and a new partner as a prerequisite to discovery. Indeed, the court pointed out that “as a practical matter, such a showing may be impossible without discovery.” In the wake of Cardali, it’s enough for the movant to show the relationship is serious and enduring and provide evidence on at least some of the cohabitation factors. This can be enough to get an order for discovery, during which the party can take depositions, request financial records, and otherwise gather the evidence necessary to prove that the party receiving alimony is cohabitating with another and termination of alimony would therefore be proper.
Given the new legal landscape for terminating alimony in New Jersey, it is more important than ever to obtain skilled and knowledgeable legal representation whether you are moving to terminate alimony or fighting to keep it in place. For help with issues related to alimony, divorce, or other family law matters in Union, Middlesex, or Essex counties, call the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102 to share your concerns with our experienced Union, New Jersey family law attorney.