The Problem of Post-Dissolution Cohabitation by Alimony Recipients


Gregory Borman


Faculty editor: Paul Horton
Publication: Contemporary Legal Issues
Volume: 22
Start Page: 563
Month: December
Year: 2015
Type: Article


In Post-Dissolution Cohabitation of Alimony Recipients: A Legal Fact of Life, Evan Langbein posits that permanent alimony awards are meant, to the extent deemed appropriate at the time of divorce, “to assure that the recipient leaves the marriage able to enjoy a standard of living commensurate with the lifestyle held during the marriage.” Assume, as I do here, that he is correct. Langbein also recognizes (without objection) that in nearly all jurisdictions court-ordered alimony payments terminate automatically when the recipient remarries.
Then what should a court to do with an ex-spouse’s claim for termination or reduction of alimony payments on grounds of the recipient’s unmarried cohabitation? After suggesting that “[c]ohabitation is an amorphous legal and social phenomenon” that creates problems for the courts —unlike remarriage—Langbein argues that “a cohabitation relationship usually is never so simple that alimony benefits should be modified simply because such a relationship exists.” I disagree. I conclude that courts should consider unmarried cohabitation by an alimony recipient to be a significant factor in the decision whether to terminate or modify downward an alimony award. My argument parallels Langbein’s but proceeds to a different result.