Cohabitation Terminates Alimony in North Carolina, but How Do You Determine if a Couple Is Cohabitating?

Most people hate having to pay alimony once it’s been ordered by the court, and that’s somewhat understandable; alimony can be a substantial amount of money from your monthly income that must go to the upkeep of a former spouse. This can be an especially hard pill to swallow if the marriage ended on bad terms. And depending on what a court orders, alimony payments could be for life or just a few years. It’s widely understood that alimony payments terminate upon the death or remarriage of a former spouse, but you’re also off the hook paying alimony if your former spouse cohabitates with a new partner. However, it can be difficult defining what exactly is cohabitation.


Characteristics of Cohabitation in North Carolina

NCGS 50-16.9(b) defines cohabitation as “two adults dwelling together continuously and habitually” that is “evidenced by the voluntary mutual assumption of those marital rights, duties, and obligations which are usually manifested by married people.” A sexual relationship may, but is not required to exist, to establish cohabitation.


Both prongs of this test can be difficult to prove in court. Living together continuously and habitually does not necessarily require the individuals to sign a lease together. If they spend the night together in one place three or four times a week, this could be enough to show that they are dwelling together under the statute.


The second factor gets even more complicated, with North Carolina courts considering numerous activities that show a relationship similar to a marriage exists. This conduct can include:


  • A long-term and monogamous sexual relationship;
  • Public displays of affection such as holding hands and kissing;
  • Whether the parties tell each other they are engaged, go on vacation together or take other trips to places like grocery stores and church together;
  • If the assets of the couple are co-mingled in joint accounts;
  • How much property, such as clothing and toiletries, the parties at keep at each other’s residences; and
  • Whether the parties cook meals together or go out to eat together.


The inquiry can become extremely fact specific, and no single incident or action will necessarily sway a court that a couple is cohabitating. Instead, a judge will look at the totality of the circumstances.


And sometimes whether a couple’s actions amount to cohabitation turns on very minor facts. In the 2013 case Smallwood v. Smallwood, the North Carolina Court of Appeals examined the case of a couple that had a monogamous sexual relationship, spent 5-7 nights together and regularly went to church and restaurants together. Despite the strong evidence of cohabitation, the court held that the couple was not actually cohabitating because they were not engaged, kept separate homes, did not keep clothes at each other’s residences, and had only taken one trip together. So just because a couple’s conduct may seem to meet the common definition of cohabitation, that doesn’t mean it has met the legal requirements of that definition.


Dedicated Divorce and Family Law Lawyers

The attorneys of Remington & Dixon, PLLC can help ensure that you are not paying any more alimony than is absolutely necessary under the law. Contact the experienced divorce attorneys in Charlotte online for a confidential consultation about your case, or call us today.



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