The Impact of Cohabitation and Remarriage on Child and Spousal Support

June 30, 2011

After a divorce, one party may decide to cohabit or remarry. As a San Diego divorce attorney, when this occurs, clients (or former clients) ask questions about the impact of cohabitation or remarriage on child support and spousal support.

What is Cohabitation?

Everyone know what remarriage means, but what about cohabitation? Does staying overnight qualify as cohabitation?

Cohabitation is on the rise. California cases have defined cohabitation as more than a sexual encounter or relationship. It requires living together, sharing day to day life, so that where one lives and dwells, the other lives and dwells. Based on case law, having a significant other stay overnight, even several nights per week, probably would not qualify as cohabitation.

The Impact on Child Support when Either Party Cohabits or Remarries

In general, new spouse or non-marital partner income is not considered when calculating guideline child support.

The court may inquire into a new spouse's income for the purpose of seeing how it would impact the remarried party's tax filing status and tax bracket when calculating guideline child support - is the remarried party filing taxes married filing separately or married filing jointly with the new spouse; how many deductions are claimed; and if filing jointly, does the new spouse income push the party into a higher tax bracket? The guideline calculator applies these factors in its calculation, but does not add in the new spouse's income.

There are always exceptions to rules. In "extraordinary cases" the income of the subsequent spouse or non-marital partner could be considered where excluding that income would lead to an extreme and severe hardship the child(ren). Such "extraordinary cases" include when the remarried parent quits work, reduces income, or intentionally remains unemployed or underemployed, and relies on their new spouses income. This means that a party who remarries well (i.e. the new spouse is so rich that they do not have to work), cannot just quit their job and expect to receive guideline child support based on zero or reduced income. The court would either impute income to the remarried party, or consider the new spouse's income.

However, before including some or all of the cohabitee or new spouse income, the court would also have to consider whether including that income would lead to extreme and severe hardship to any child supported by the remarried party, or by either party's subsequent spouse or non-marital partner. This means that the new spouse or cohabite income may not be considered if they have a child or children from a prior relationship, or with the new spouse.

The court makes its decisions on these issues a case-by-case basis.

Impact on Spousal Support when the Paying Party Cohabits or Remarries

The family code prohibits the income of a supporting spouse's subsequent spouse or non-marital partner to be considered when determining or modifying spousal support.

Impact on Spousal Support when the Receiving Party Cohabits

The first place to look is the parties Marital Settlement Agreement to see if there is a provision automatically terminating or reducing spousal support if the receiving party is cohabiting.

Sometimes parties enter into a Marital Settlement agreement that provides for non-modifiable support. In such cases, unless support is specifically terminated or reduced upon cohabitation, then the non-modifiable support provision precludes modification if supported spouse cohabits.

If there is no cohabitation provision regarding spousal support, then the Receiving Party's cohabitation is a change in circumstances triggering the Family Code presumption of decreased need for spousal support. Because this is merely a presumption, the cohabiting spouse can present evidence to prove to the court that he or she has a continued need for support despite the cohabitation. If the cohabitating spouse does not meet this burden, then the court may modify or terminate spousal support.

Impact on Spousal Support when the Receiving Party Remarries

The parties Marital Settlement Agreement controls. If there is a provision automatically terminating spousal support if the receiving party remarries, then the remarriage automatically terminates spousal support.

If there is a provision providing for non-modifiable spousal support despite remarriage, then spousal support continues as set forth in the Marital Settlement Agreement.