When alimony is paid pursuant to the terms of an order entered by a North Carolina Court, then North Carolina law governs the conditions under which the alimony terminates. Under North Carolina law, alimony shall terminate upon the first to occur of the following: (1) the date, time period, or circumstances specified by the court in its order, (2) the death of either the supporting spouse or the dependent spouse; (3) the dependent spouse’s remarriage; (4) or the dependent spouse’s cohabitation.
North Carolina law defines cohabitation as two adults “dwelling together continuously and habitually” in a private heterosexual or homosexual relationship, even if the relationship is not solemnized by marriage. Cohabitation is evidenced by the assumption of marital rights, duties, and obligations typically manifested by married people. This may include, but is not necessarily dependent on, sexual relations.
A supporting spouse who is paying postseparation support or alimony should follow proper legal procedure to terminate the postseparation support or alimony obligation in the event the dependent spouse begins living with a third-party in order to ensure that the support obligation is lawfully terminated. This may require the supporting spouse to initiate legal proceedings requesting that the court terminate the spousal support obligation on the basis of the dependent spouse’s cohabitation. In some situations, a dependent spouse may deny that he/she is cohabitating, and the court must hold a hearing to determine whether cohabitation has occurred. In determining whether cohabitation has occurred, the court may consider a multitude of factors, including such things as whether the dependent spouse and the third-party have maintained separate residences, whether they have interrelated financial conditions, and how the dependent spouse and third-party hold themselves out to society. If the court finds that cohabitation of the dependent spouse has not occurred, and the supporting spouse has unilaterally ceased paying spousal support, the supporting spouse could be found in contempt of court and ordered to pay the dependent spouse’s attorney’s fees.
If postseparation support or alimony is being paid pursuant to a valid written agreement between the supporting spouse and the dependent spouse, then the terms of the agreement determine whether the spousal support is subject to termination if the dependent spouse commences cohabitation. When parties enter into an agreement for payment of alimony, then the terms of the agreement govern the alimony obligation. Parties to such agreements may agree to matters that the court does not have authority to impose, such as allowing the alimony obligation to continue regardless of whether the dependent spouse commences cohabitation or remarries.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice. This article reflects the opinions of the author based on North Carolina law in effect at the time of posting.