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Cohabitation ends Texas spousal support, but proof can be costly

The Texas Family Code outlines conditions under which former spouses qualify for and receive post-marital financial support. The arrangement is called spousal maintenance in this state but is sometimes referred to as alimony. Spousal maintenance is not guaranteed and payments are conditional.

Statute 1C:8056 details termination of spousal support. The former spouse who makes payments is not obligated to continue maintenance after the recipient's death or remarriage. The recipient also may be cut off when he or she shares a home with a new intimate partner.

The cohabitation rule is open to interpretation. An ex's new partner may not have to stay in the home full-time for spousal maintenance to be terminated. The house-sharing can be on a "continuing basis," which leaves the acceptable frequency of overnight stays up in the air.

Understandably, former spouses don't want to pay more support than necessary, and some pursue legal actions to prove a recipient is cohabiting. Recipients can deny the allegation. It's up to the payer to prove the claim.

Keep in mind fees associated with finding evidence of cohabitation could cost more than total spousal support payments. In Texas, qualifications for payments are restrictive and, in many cases, maintenance is temporary. The duration of spousal support depends on the recipient's abilities to reach a level of self-support.

A payer who hopes to reduce or terminate support due to a former spouse's cohabitation may have to show the new partners have a "marriage-like" relationship. A paid investigator may be needed to come up with evidence of the partners' intimacy and commingled finances. An attorney can help spouse's evaluate whether the legal effort is worth it.

Divorcing couples also have the option of designing their own spousal maintenance contract. The conditions can be included in a divorce agreement and may contain descriptive details – not so clear in the state's law -- that void spousal maintenance.

Source: The Huffington Post, "How to Evaluate if Cohabitation Has Placed Alimony at Risk" Diane L. Danois, Mar. 21, 2014

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