Utah alimony order may terminate if recipient cohabits with new partner

Meeting the definition of cohabitation may be a subject of debate.

Utah law provides that a former spouse may ask the court to terminate his or her obligation to pay alimony if the ex-spouse can establish that other former spouse is cohabiting with a new partner. The paying party has one year to request termination from the point in time that he or she knew or should have known about the cohabitation.

Cohabitation is marriage-like

Utah courts have had to determine what it means to cohabit for these purposes. In the October 2018 case of Hosking v. Chambers, the Court of Appeals described in detail the framework for analysis set out by the Utah Supreme Court.

To answer the question of whether an ex-spouse is cohabiting with someone, the court must decide if there is a relationship that is like a marriage. As the Court of Appeals clarified, every relationship is unique so there can be no "hard and fast set of elements comprising cohabitation." Yet, the Supreme Court has directed that three "general 'hallmarks'" of cohabitation must be considered to answer the question:

  • Does the couple share a residence?
  • Do they share an intimate relationship?
  • Do they have a "common household" with joint expenses and shared decision making?

The trial court had found that all three of the hallmark were present and found that the ex-wife was cohabitating with her boyfriend, so the alimony was terminated. The judge even ordered that the ex-wife repay alimony she received previously during the period of cohabitation. The Appeals Court agreed.

Hallmarks of cohabitation

Hosking, the ex-husband, had agreed to a generous alimony award in the divorce settlement, which included a provision that alimony would end if Chambers cohabitated with anyone. After four years of paying alimony, Hosking requested termination of his obligation because he thought Chambers was cohabitating with her boyfriend.

He gathered evidence by engaging two detectives to observe and investigate the couple's relationship. The trial court found Hosking's evidence more credible than that of Chambers.

The Court of Appeals explained why it agreed that the three hallmarks weighed in favor of cohabitation:

  • Because the boyfriend spent more time at Chambers' home than at any other house, it was his primary residence. He also behaved like he lived there, coming and going freely, getting mail there and keeping his property there.
  • The ex-wife said that the couple shared an intimate relationship.
  • The evidence supported a finding that the couple shared a common household. They bought large assets together and made joint financial decisions. They shared a bank account and transferred money between them as well as applying for joint mortgages. They were engaged, vacationed together, went to church together and had relationships with one another's families.

Any Utahn facing an alimony issue should consult with an experienced attorney to understand what is at stake and what the legal options are.

The family lawyers at Kristopher K. Greenwood & Associates with offices in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Park City and Lehi represent people in alimony issues as well as other legal matters related to marriage, divorce, parentage and relationships throughout Utah.