Generally speaking, a person’s alimony obligation terminates if his or her ex-spouse gets remarried. In some states, such as Florida, laws have been passed allowing alimony to be terminated if one’s former spouse enters into a supportive relationship. A supportive relationship is, simply put, two unrelated persons holding themselves out as spouses who reside together and provide support or services to one another. Florida’s divorce laws notwithstanding, divorcing spouses are free to craft their own agreements as to alimony and the reasons for which it can be terminated.
In an interesting case out of Palm Beach County, the parties agreed in their marital settlement agreement that “Any future alimony payments owed to the Wife end upon the death of either party, remarriage, or cohabitation with another person other than the parties’ child. Cohabitation shall be defined as the Wife living with another person (not including the parties’ child) for a period of three consecutive months or more.” At some point after the divorce was final, the former wife was sentenced to nine years in prison for DUI resulting in serious bodily injury and leaving the scene. The former husband thereafter petitioned the family court to terminate his alimony obligation because his ex-wife’s living in a jail cell with another inmate met the definition of cohabitation under the divorce agreement. The trial court did not terminate the alimony because it felt that finding a prison cell mate met the definition would be “ an absurd result, unthinkably bizarre and at odds with any reasonable interpretation intended by the agreement drafters.” However, on appeal, the district court applied general contract law and found that the language in the agreement was unambiguous and that the cell mate met the agreement’s definition of cohabitation. The court terminated the former wife’s alimony award.
While cases like this are what make my job interesting, there is an underlying moral to this story. It is important to hire a qualified and experienced divorce attorney. In this case, the wife’s lawyer never should have agreed to that definition of cohabitation in the parties’ agreement. As I often explain to my clients, the devil is in the details. It’s one thing to reach an agreement in principle. It’s yet another to accurately memorialize that agreement in writing. I’ve been practicing divorce and family law for 40 years. If you need sound legal advice about your divorce case or alimony issue, you can call me at my office at 386-257-1222 or email me at PaulRice@ RiceLawFlorida.com.
Paul E. Rice, Jr., Esquire
Board Certified Divorce and Family Law