The effect of cohabitation on maintenance & divorce settlements

If you’ve been divorced and then remarry, any court order for maintenance payments in divorce settlements from your ex-spouse is automatically terminated. But does the same happen if you are receiving maintenance from your ex-husband and, although you’re not getting remarried, you’d like your new partner to move in with you? Will it change anything? If you are paying maintenance to your ex-wife and she moves in with someone else – does that mean you can stop paying?

Remarriage is a triggering factor that would automatically bring maintenance to an end; cohabitation is not. The way the court approaches maintenance where there is cohabitation with a new partner is outlined in the case of Grey v Grey [2010] EWHC 1055. The judge ruled that post separation cohabitation with a third party (the new partner) is a relevant factor for the court to take into account, when considering the level of maintenance pending suit or periodical payments that the cohabiting former spouse should receive. The crucial point is that it’s relevant to the level, the amount of maintenance payable. In some cases the cohabitation will weigh heavily in the scales and other times it will not. What the court will seek to establish is usually not what the new partner is contributing, but what he ought to be contributing, which involves a full scrutiny of the new partner’s financial circumstances by the court.

So if you are contemplating a new relationship with someone who could, and is easily able to afford to, pay the same or more than the maintenance that you are currently receiving from your ex-spouse, then that will clearly have an impact on what you are going to receive in future in maintenance payments from any divorce settlements.

Where the new partner appears to be supporting the ex-spouse, but where there is doubt about the permanency of the relationship, it’s possible for the court to order that the payments are varied downward to a nominal amount – maybe even just £1 a year. That way, the maintenance order is still in force – unlike remarriage, it doesn’t have to cease altogether. If the new relationship subsequently fails, the ex-spouse can return to court to request that the maintenance is varied back up (which could mean reinstating the original amount, or determining a different figure entirely).

So if you are thinking of moving in to live with somebody, you should consider the financial effect of your choice: it is likely to alter what you are awarded, if you have a  current order for maintenance payments. It’s important that when you are making changes in your life that you go into things with your eyes open and you are fully informed of the consequences. The best way to do that is to seek legal advice; contact Andrew Isaacs Solicitors if you need further information or would like to make an appointment.