Cohabitation is a complex legal concept that can significantly impact maintenance (formerly known as alimony) arrangements. Courts define cohabitation in various ways, and understanding these definitions is crucial for both those receiving maintenance and those paying it. In this blog, we will dive into the definitions of cohabitation in the context of maintenance and how it can affect support payments. What a Court determines to be cohabitation is very fact driven and it is important to understand the factors the court will consider in determining if there was cohabitation. The question is whether the facts of the arrangement result in a de facto marriage.
Cohabitation and Maintenance
Maintenance, or alimony, is a financial arrangement in which one spouse provides financial support to the other after divorce or separation. It is intended to assist the recipient spouse in maintaining a similar standard of living as during the marriage. However, maintenance payments are not meant to be indefinite, and various circumstances, including cohabitation, can lead to their termination or modification.
What is Cohabitation?
Cohabitation refers to the living arrangement of two individuals who are not married. Of import in this context is that you may, but may not necessarily, share a residence together to cohabitate. Courts consider cohabitation as a termination factor for the payment of maintenance. That is to say, maintenance terminates as of the date of cohabitation.
Illinois Case Law Definitions of Cohabitation
Appellate Courts across different jurisdictions in Illinois have established criteria for a court to determine cohabitation in the context of maintenance. While these definitions may vary, some common elements include but are not limited to the following:
- Shared Residence: Courts typically require that the individuals in question share a residence, indicating a level of financial interdependence.
- Economic Partnership: Cohabitants often share financial responsibilities. Courts may look for evidence of financial interdependence when determining cohabitation.
- Intimate Relationship: Courts may consider the nature of the relationship between the cohabitants. Factors such as emotional and sexual involvement can be taken into account, along with the amount of time you spend together.
- Duration: The length of time of the relationship can also be relevant. A short-term relationship may simply be determined as a dating relationship. The Court can also look at activities you do together
- Holding Out: Illinois considers whether the cohabitants present themselves as a couple to family, friends, or the community. Publicly acknowledging the relationship can be a factor in determining cohabitation.
- Vacations and Holidays: If a couple vacations together and spends the majority of holidays together, this is a factor a court will consider in determining cohabitation.
Are You Just Friends With Benefits with the Ability to Walk Away?
In the recent case of In re the Marriage of Edson, 2023 Il. App. (1st) 230236, the Court considered whether or not a person can separate now without entanglement and walk away from the relationship in determining whether there was cohabitation. If a person can walk away easily, then the Court found that de facto marriage does not exist. If there are entanglements, then cohabitation will be found to exist. Time will tell if this will be the new standard but for now, it is clearly a factor to consider.
Impact on Maintenance
When the court determines that cohabitation exists based on their specific criteria, maintenance payment will terminate. Termination can be retroactive to the date of termination which could result in a large amount to be subject to reimbursement.
Understanding the court’s definition of cohabitation and its implications for maintenance arrangements is essential for anyone involved in or affected by divorce or separation. Whether you are the recipient or payer of maintenance, being aware of how cohabitation may influence your situation can help you make informed decisions and navigate the legal process effectively. If you have questions or concerns regarding cohabitation and maintenance, consulting with an experienced family law attorney is advisable to ensure your rights and obligations are properly addressed.
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