Does Spousal Support End with Cohabitation in California?

Will spousal support (often called “alimony” in other states) be awarded in your divorce case? It depends because contrary to popular belief, spousal support is not automatically awarded in a California divorce.

Spousal support is often awarded when the lower-earning spouse needs it until they become self-supporting, but mainly when the higher-earning spouse has the financial ability to pay it. If the lower-earning spouse is capable of working and the higher-earning spouse cannot afford spousal support, it may not be awarded by the court.

Suppose spousal support is awarded in your divorce case. Surely, you’ll want to know, “When does it end?” Of course, it ends upon remarriage, but what if the supported spouse moves in with a romantic partner?

Terminating Spousal Support in California

Before we discuss “cohabitation” and its effect on spousal support, let’s have a general discussion about the duration of spousal support. If it is awarded, it’s usually awarded for one half the length of the marriage unless the marriage lasted 10 or more years.

If the marriage lasted 10 or more years, it may be set without an end date, but it may be subject to modification or termination in the future. Judges, however, have discretion and they don’t have to use the above formula.

Spousal support ends when:

  • A court order says it ends;
  • Either spouse dies; or
  • The supported spouse remarries.

“But what if a supported spouse moves in with a romantic partner and their new boyfriend or girlfriend supports them financially?” Under Section 4323(a)(1) of the California Family Code it reads:

“Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1.”

In simple terms: If a former spouse is receiving spousal support, and they move in with a nonmarital partner, it is possible for the spousal support to be modified or terminated, but it will be up to the paying spouse to prove that it would be unfair for them to continue supporting their ex-spouse because he or she is now in a new supportive relationship.