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Learning More About Cohabitation and Spousal Maintenance

Learning More About Cohabitation and Spousal Maintenance

By: M. Scott Gordon

If you live in the Chicago area and are receiving spousal maintenance payments, can your award be terminated based on your actions? For instance, what happens if you begin dating someone new during your separation or after your divorce is finalized, and you decide to move into that person’s home? And does the situation change if that person moves into your apartment or if the two of you seek out a new residence together? It is important to recognize that Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/510) allows for the modification and termination of spousal maintenance awards under certain conditions, and one of those conditions is “cohabitation.”

What do you need to know about cohabitation and how it might impact your situation?

Understanding Illinois’s Laws on Spousal Maintenance and Termination

According to 750 ILCS 5/510(c), spousal maintenance awards can be terminated in a number of different circumstances, including upon the death of one (or both) of the parties, the remarriage of the party receiving spousal maintenance payments, or the cohabitation of the party receiving spousal maintenance payments. Now, the first two situations are relatively straightforward. But when the law refers to “cohabitation,” what, precisely, does it mean? For instance, does moving in with a roommate qualify as cohabitation such that your spousal maintenance award can be in jeopardy?

The statute describes cohabitation in these terms: a situation in which “the party receiving maintenance cohabits with another person on a resident, continuing conjugal basis.” In other words, you must be living with another person in a residence together, and the two of you must have what looks like a conjugal relationship, or the relationship between a husband and a wife. As you might imagine, it can be difficult to prove that a conjugal relationship exists between two people, but it is not impossible. Does cohabitation exist if you are dating another person and occasionally spending the night at one another’s residences? Typically, this kind of relationship is not a “resident, continuing conjugal” relationship as the statute describes.

Spousal Maintenance Duration and Effects on Cohabitation

Will spousal maintenance awards be terminated upon cohabitation even if you were awarded spousal maintenance for an extended duration following the dissolution of decades of marriage? Under relatively new amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), there are now spousal maintenance guidelines for many couples. These new guidelines also address the duration of spousal maintenance awards. For spouses whose marriage lasted between 15 and 20 years, the duration of the award is calculated at 80 percent of the years of marriage under the new guidelines. For instance, if a couple is married for 18 years, the duration of the award will be 80 percent of 18 years, or 14.4 years.

Illinois law does not make distinctions between short and long marriages when addressing cohabitation. As such, even if you were married for 18 years and receive a spousal maintenance award that will last for 14.4 years, if you decide to cohabit (under the law’s definition), then your award will be terminated.

Is there any way to retain your spousal maintenance award even if you cohabit with another person? The statute does emphasize that a written agreement by the parties can allow for an exception. However, that written agreement must be set forth in the judgment and approved by the court.

Contact a Chicago Spousal Maintenance Lawyer

Do you have questions about cohabitation and your spousal maintenance payments? An experienced Chicago spousal maintenance attorney can answer your questions. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates to discuss your case.