Alimony payments are intended to financially support dependent spouses after a marriage has ended. These payments recognize the duration of a couple’s marriage, their marital standard of living, the disparity in wealth and opportunity between the spouses, and the numerous contributions that the dependent spouse has made to the home, education, and career of the supporting spouse.
For many spouses paying alimony, these ongoing payments can be a real source of bad feelings; while in contrast, dependent spouses feel like they deserve this support in recognition of their contributions to the family. Our firm routinely gets questions from clients and prospective clients alike about when and how alimony can be modified. One of these circumstances includes when a dependent spouse moves on with a new serious partner.
Remarriage or Cohabitation Ends Alimony Obligation
In deciding the amount and duration of alimony payments, North Carolina courts are given a great deal of discretion. But while courts are free to set the specific amount and duration of alimony payments, some events can trigger the end of an alimony obligation early.
Specifically, North Carolina General Statute Section 50-16.9 provides that “[i]f a dependent spouse who is receiving post-separation support or alimony from a supporting spouse under a judgment or order of a court of this State remarries or engages in cohabitation, the post-separation support or alimony shall terminate.”
Here, cohabitation means “the act of two adults dwelling together continuously and habitually in a private heterosexual relationship, even if this relationship is not solemnized by marriage”. Courts look at the relationship and whether the couple acts in the manner of a married couple in the “voluntary mutual assumption” of “marital rights, duties, and obligations”.
It is up to the spouse seeking to end the alimony payments to file pleadings with the court and to provide evidence to convince the court that the dependent spouse has remarried or engaged in cohabitation. The idea is that the dependent spouse has a new partner to rely on and the supporting spouse no longer has a duty of support.