Does cohabitation hold the potential to modify spousal support in Texas?

Spousal support is a topic in Texas family law that is unique. Across the country, when you hear about spousal support and its impact on a family law case you will usually hear about it referred to as alimony. Alimony is such a major part of the divorce landscape in our country that even those who have never been through a divorce and have not been involved in the legal field are aware of what alimony is. We are accustomed to hearing about spouses fighting over alimony, whether the marriage lasted for decades or is a new relationship. The subject of alimony has likely been one of the subjects in a favorite television show or movie of yours. Simply put, we hear about alimony all the time and its impact on the spouse involved in that divorce.

In Texas, alimony of this type is known as spousal maintenance. This is post-divorce spousal support that can only be ordered by a family court judge. As it usually works out, this type of support is paid every month for a designated period. The purpose of spousal maintenance is to help whichever spouse receives the benefit be able to live a more comfortable life when it is shown that he or she is incapable of doing so on their own. We can all imagine a situation where a spouse who has been married for an extended period without ever working outside the home is now in a position where he or she passed too quickly to adapt to living life as a single adult. Part of that bargain is the need to support themselves.

As a result, a court can order spousal maintenance to be paid to help meet the monthly obligations of a spouse in that type of situation. In Texas, spousal maintenance is not something that can be ordered for an indefinite period. Rather, most spousal maintenance awards tend to be less than seven years in duration. What this should tell you is that while courts in Texas can award spousal maintenance it is not their prerogative to do so. Rather, family court judges will typically border a disproportionate share of the community estate rather than award spousal maintenance.

Once spousal maintenance is ordered it is typically in place until the duration of the award has come to an end. At that time, the spouse who is responsible for paying spousal maintenance would need to go through a few steps to formally end the process of paying maintenance to their ex-spouse. This is normally a straightforward process and not one that requires a great deal of planning or forethought. Every day, spouses end their obligation to pay special maintenance.

What we are going to be discussing in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is what can happen if the spouse who receives special maintenance begins to cohabitate with another person. Cohabitation in and of itself is far from rare in the time after a divorce. We sometimes see this happening almost immediately after a divorce comes to an end. Most of the time little thought or consideration is given to this scenario. However, when it comes to spousal maintenance that is a factor that makes this a much more complex issue. We are going to investigate what it means to cohabitate as an ex-spouse who receives maintenance.

How is cohabitation defined?

For our discussion today, we can think about cohabitation as living with another person in the same way that you would if you were married to him or her. From the outside looking in, it would appear to an uninterested observer that your ex-spouse and their partner were married. From this, we can ask ourselves what some characteristics of cohabitation and appearing to be married could be. Being in a romantic relationship would be foremost among those characteristics. Without the romantic relationship aspect of the conversation, then your expose would simply have a roommate in this discussion would no longer be one of much importance. Rather, you would need to show that, to begin with, he or she was in a romantic relationship.

From there, the next characteristic that is obviously of extreme importance would be that your ex-spouse and their partner were sharing a home. Sharing a home is one of those situations that can be easier said been done. You may believe that your ex-spouse and their partner were living together in a shared home, but this can be something that can be taken out of context or simply misinterpreted. For example, think about your neighbors that you see most every day. At first glance, you may think that you know each person who lives in the houses surrounding your own. However, it may surprise you to find out that the exact living situations of your neighbors may be less straightforward than you would have believed otherwise. The same can be true for your ex-spouse when you consider that you don’t see him or her every day and do not live down the street from them.

With that said, another hallmark of cohabitation is acting as if you are in a committed, domestic relationship with another person. For your ex-spouse, that could mean not only living with the other person but also sharing a bank account, budgeting their finances, and being the other person’s emergency contact or next of kin on emergency forms at the doctor’s or their place of employment. If enough people tend to believe that your ex-spouse and their partner are married then the requirement to hold out to others or simply act like they are in a domestic partnership arrangement could be satisfied.

The effect of cohabitation on special maintenance

The question that we need to answer in today’s blog post is whether spousal maintenance would come to an end for your ex-spouse if he or she were to begin cohabitating. As with most things in the law, it greatly depends upon the specific facts and details of their situation. It would be downright impossible to try and offer an opinion on their situation from our vantage point here. What you could decide to do is to seek out a free-of-charge consultation with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. In consultation with our experienced family law attorneys, you could tell the attorney what the situation is and allow him or her to offer an opinion as to whether it appears that cohabitation is occurring. With that in mind, you could begin to prepare for whatever steps are needed moving forward.

When we look at specific circumstances in which spousal maintenance must come to an end in Texas two circumstances bear mentioning today. The first is if your ex-spouse remarries. This is a straightforward situation. When your ex-spouse ties the knot with a new person then your obligation to pay spousal maintenance comes to an end. Being able to prove that you are next spouse has remarried can be more difficult if the type of marriage you are trying to prove is a common-law marriage. However, if your ex-spouse has gone through with a ceremonial marriage then being able to prove that this event has occurred is not difficult. 

Spousal maintenance does not survive the death of either spouse. This means that if you pass away or if your ex-spouse passes away then there is no longer an obligation to pay or receive spousal maintenance. Providing the clerk of the family court with a death certificate would be all the proof that you would need that spousal maintenance is no longer needed. At that point, the obligation to pay spousal maintenance would come to an end. We hope that the conversation surrounding spousal maintenance will not have any relation to death, but it is a possibility and therefore needs to be mentioned in this blog post.

Terminating spousal maintenance

When there is a valid reason to end the payment of spousal maintenance and that reason is approved by the court, we call that a spousal maintenance termination. As we just covered a moment ago, a termination of spousal maintenance can result due to cohabitation but that does not necessarily have to be the case. There are several valid reasons as to why spousal maintenance could be terminated validly. In any event, you have the right to file a motion with the court to terminate spousal maintenance for any number of reasons. Whether it is a reason that is valid in the eyes of a family court judge is another matter altogether.

The law in Texas is that when a person who is receiving spousal maintenance cohabitates with another person then the obligation to pay special maintenance has not necessarily ended but can be modified. The difficulty lies in being able to prove that your ex-spouse is cohabitating. This means that you are obligated to not only petition the court to terminate the child support but to also provide the necessary evidence to substantiate the allegations made in your petition determinate. Although this can certainly be done it is not without its challenges.

If you are successful in showing in court that your ex-spouse has cohabitated with another person with whom he or she is in a romantic relationship then the court will set up a hearing and the obligation to pay child support will probably come to an end. However, you should bear in mind that if you owe any past-due spousal maintenance then you will still owe those amounts.

Something of note that may be of interest to you and your ex-spouse is that the two of you are well within your rights to come to an agreement about him or her cohabitating and still receiving spousal maintenance. For instance, you and your ex-spouse may be able to talk about this subject between yourselves and decide to leave spousal maintenance unchanged even if your ex-spouse were to begin cohabitating with another person. Why you may want to do this is up to the two of you but you can certainly do so if that is your decision.

There is also something known as contractual alimony in Texas. Contractual alimony is when you and your spouse, during the divorce, choose to negotiate your way through an agreement involving post-divorce spousal support. This is an agreement that is not covered under the Texas Family Code. How the two of you work out this subject is up to you all. There are no limitations on the amount of spousal maintenance that can be ordered or on the duration of the award. Bear in mind that it may be a good idea for the two of you to include language in your contract that relates to cohabitation and its impact on the future obligation to pay alimony.

What are you looking for when it comes to factors related to cohabitation and the termination of spousal maintenance?

What the Texas Family Code holds concerning spousal maintenance and cohabitation is that the obligation to pay spousal maintenance can be terminated if your ex-spouse cohabitates with a person permanently. The difficulty here is that “permanent” is not defined in the Texas Family Code. That means that your family court would be responsible for determining what a permanent cohabitation is. The specific facts and circumstances of your case would need to be examined in detail so that it could be established whether the cohabitation, if any, in your case is permanent or not.

Keying in on the most important factors to a court when it comes to permanent cohabitation would be crucial. As mentioned earlier, being able to provide evidence to a court that the expenses of the couple are being shared and that bills are being paid jointly would be solid evidence of permanent cohabitation. The thought here is that people in a casual dating relationship would not go to the trouble of sharing expenses that people in a more permanent and committed relationship would.

A factor that may be somewhat obvious but is important to note nonetheless is the length of the relationship. The longer that your ex-spouse and their partner have been in a relationship it is more likely that it would be determined that he or she or any permanent cohabitation with their partner. Again, moving in with a person with whom you are not married is no longer novel in our culture. However, the idea that it is a permanent move for you and your partner increases when the relationship is fairly long.

The type of evidence that can be effective when you’re trying to prove a permanent cohabitation includes witness testimony, financial documents, or photographs. Another type of evidence that is becoming more and more important in the world that we live in would be social media posts. A photo album of your ex-spouse walking their friends and family through a new home purchased with their partner would certainly seem to be a good indication that he or she was in a permanent cohabitation arrangement.

What you need to keep in mind as the spouse who pays special maintenance is that your obligation to pay does not come to an end automatically just because you find out what you think is information about your ex-spouse cohabitating. Rather, you would need to go through the process of filing a motion to terminate the spousal maintenance obligation and then also have evidence ready to substantiate that petition.

If all of this sounds a tad overwhelming, then you should not count yourself in the minority. Most people in your specific situation would find it difficult to manage all the expectations and other obstacles associated with a case like this. It is not easy to move a case like this along successfully. That is where hiring an experienced family law attorney can come in handy. For instance, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have the skills and knowledge that you need to be able to petition a court to end your spousal maintenance obligation but also to present the evidence you need to win this case cohesively.

Wondering where to start with all of this? Contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan for a free-of-charge consultation is where we suggest you begin. Different cases oftentimes come out looking differently based on the decision of whether to hire an attorney. While you can always change your mind and hire a lawyer later in your case, it is certainly possible to make mistakes at the beginning of a case while not represented which have a negative impact throughout the remainder of the case. We thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us today and hope that you will join us again tomorrow as we continue to post relevant and unique content regarding the world of Texas family law.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody lawsuit.

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