Here is the scenario: You and your spouse go through the legal process in North Carolina to obtain a ruling on alimony claims. The judge rules in favor of you regarding alimony considering you to be the “dependent spouse” in the former marriage. As life goes on, you receive alimony payments from your ex-spouse and begin to wonder, “Can any of my actions cause my alimony payments to end?”.
In North Carolina, there are several acts which can cause the end of your alimony payments. Under North Carolina family law specifically, North Carolina General Statutes §50-16.9(b), the “supporting spouse’s” obligation to continue to make alimony payments to the “dependent spouse” terminates if and when the “dependent spouse” either remarries or cohabitates with another person. Payments also terminate upon the death of either spouse.
North Carolina law is straightforward in its termination of alimony payments if the “dependent” spouse remarries. On the date of the remarriage, alimony payments from the “supporting spouse” to the “dependent spouse” automatically cease. The “supporting spouse” doesn’t have to make any court appearances or filings to stop making alimony payments.
As established by North Carolina General Statutes §50-16.9(b), cohabitation is defined as two (2) adults dwelling together continuously and habitually in either a private heterosexual or homosexual relationship. Unlike the remarriage rule above, the court will consider and analyze several factors to determine if a “dependent spouse” is legally cohabitating with another partner. This is evidenced by a voluntary mutual assumption of those marital rights, duties, and obligations which are usually manifested by married people, and which include, but are not necessarily dependent on, sexual relations. Essentially, there are two separate elements needed to establish cohabitation: (1) The parties involved have been dwelling together both continuously and habitually; and (2) The parties have assumed the marital rights, duties, and obligations of married people.
Let’s break these elements down individually. Suzanne Reynolds, a Dean Emerita and Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina, analyzed both elements in her academic book, Reynolds’ North Carolina Family Law. In regards to the first element (the person receiving alimony and his or her significant other have been dwelling together continuously and habitually), “continuous and habitual” is defined as the relationship the “dependent spouse” and his or her partner maintain being exclusively between them, monogamous, and being of some duration of time with regularity, Reynolds’ North Carolina Family Law §9.85, at 495 (6th ed. 2021). Regarding the second element (the person receiving alimony and his or her significant other have assumed the marital rights, duties, and obligation of married people), the assumption of marital rights, duties, and obligations is determined by a number of factors the court has analyzed in the past including, “household routine, social life, financial matters, and sex life,” Id. at 497. These factors also include whether the person receiving alimony and his or her significant other share joint financial accounts, whether the significant other keeps personal belongings within the shared dwelling, and whether the they take vacations and spend holidays together as a couple.
For example, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has previously found cohabitation existed in Rehm v. Rehm, 104 N.C. App. 490 (1991) when it was established in that case that the “dependent spouse” had maintained a sexual relationship with a third party for eleven (11) months, the third party stayed in the same dwelling as the “dependent spouse” for up to five (5) nights a week, the third party left personal belongings (clothing) at the “dependent spouse’s” home and the “dependent spouse” and third party had taken trips together with the “dependent spouse’s” child. On the other hand, in Oakley v. Oakley, 165 N.C. App. 859 (2004), the Court of Appeals found that the “dependent spouse” in this case was not cohabitating. Despite the fact that the “dependent spouse” and the third party were having sexual relations and went on trips together and dates, the “supporting spouse” failed to prove that the “dependent spouse” and third party assumed the marital rights, duties, and obligations that were usually manifested by married people. Thus, it is clear that both of the aforementioned elements must be proven by a party who is looking to terminate alimony payments with solid evidence supporting both individual elements. However, every court interprets evidence differently and results may vary from case to case.
In North Carolina, death of either a “supporting spouse” or “dependent spouse” terminates all rights to alimony as well as the obligation to make alimony payments. A spouse is also prohibited from suing the estate of the “supporting spouse” to continue alimony payments.
If you have questions about whether alimony payments can or should be terminated, you should rely on the advice, expertise, and experience of your attorney.
If you or someone you know has questions about alimony and the actions that could cause alimony payments to be terminated via North Carolina family law, contact Hatcher Law Group for a consultation with an experienced family law attorney to understanding your rights and options moving forward.