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Does an Ex-Spouse’s Co-habitation Enable You to End Spousal Support?

Sometimes during divorce or after a divorce concludes, the spouse receiving spousal support may begin cohabiting with another partner. Should you have to pay spousal support, which would effectively go to supporting that couple instead of an independent spouse?

How Does New York Law Address This Issue?

Last year, a case called Sanseri v. Sanseri came before the New York Supreme Court and it addressed when a trial court can terminate maintenance.

New York law for terminating maintenance has changed over the years to keep up with our changing culture. In 1978, based on the case Northrup v. Northrup, the court ruled that unless the person was habitually living with a man and “holding herself out” as his wife, no modification was allowed.

Decades later, the NY Legislature restructured the concept of maintenance to provide financial assistance based on a model of “economic dependence.”

Details of the Sanseri v. Sanseri Case

The husband and wife were not yet divorced because certain issues still had to be resolved. The court ordered maintenance when the divorce began based on income disparities. Later, the wife admitted to living with another man, sharing a bedroom and commingling finances through a joint checking account. She accepted an engagement ring from her new partner. She shared family activities with him, listed him as an emergency contact for her child, shared birthdays, holidays and they traveled together.

Whether she should continue receiving maintenance hung up on the point that she had never “held herself out” as the spouse of her fiancé.

Supreme Court’s Ruling

After reviewing the details and applicable case law, the court ruled that the burden of proof requires that the wife show a need for maintenance or the inability to provide for herself. The court based the ruling on the new legislative economic-based theory. The wife can re-open the case and provide evidence that supports the continuation of maintenance as necessary for her to maintain independence in her current situation. Meanwhile, the court suspended maintenance, pending the outcome of the hearing to reopen the case.

If you have questions about spousal support, Attorney Chris Palermo will be glad you answer your questions and advise the best course of legal action.