The New Jersey Supreme Court Enforces an Alimony Termination Clause Upon Cohabitation
The recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision of Quinn v. Quinn made abundantly clear that where alimony ends upon cohabitation, and the end of that cohabitation does not serve to reinstate alimony.
The facts in Quinn are quite simple. The parties were divorced in 2006. Their property settlement agreement (PSA), in part, established alimony and specifically stated alimony was to terminate upon the death of either party and either Ms. Quinn’s remarriage or her cohabitation with another “per case or statutory law whichever event shall occur first.” In January of 2008, Ms. Quinn was alleged to be cohabiting with a Mr. Warholak, though the cohabitation ended in April, 2010 (one month after Mr. Quinn filed a motion to terminate his alimony obligation).
The cohabitation actually ended during the 11 months over which the trial was taking place. The trial judge, because of the end of the cohabitation, suspended alimony during the term of cohabitation, then reinstated alimony thereafter. Because Mr. Quinn had continued paying alimony during the cohabitation period, the trial court also acted to cut the alimony obligation in half until such time as he had recovered what amounted to an overpayment. In addition, the trial court awarded Mr. Quinn $145,536.74 in his attorney’s fees and costs, based upon Ms. Quinn’s lack of credibility, evasiveness, “misstatements,” and lack of merit to her defense. The Appellate Court agreed and upheld the trial court’s decision, but the New Jersey Supreme Court, found that once cohabitation occurred, alimony ended forever, never to be reinstated or revisited.
In the Supreme Court’s analysis of the Appellate Court’s decision as well as the trial court’s record, the Court found that the trial court determined that there was, in fact, cohabitation. The Supreme Court clearly found that if there was cohabitation, then termination of alimony must occur under the terms of the parties’ PSA. Cohabitation is not merely an intervening suspension period for alimony. The Supreme Court found the trial court in error by its viewing the disparity of income between the parties to reinstate alimony, instead of terminating alimony as per the mandate of the parties’ PSA. Instead of ending alimony, as was required, the trial court used its discretionary powers to fashion a solution, set forth above, to try to equalize the disparity in income.
It was clear from the record of the trial court, relied on by both appellate courts, that Ms. Quinn understood what “cohabitation” meant, she knew she would lose alimony if she cohabited with anyone, it was clear she was under no pressure to sign the PSA and there was no apparent reason to relieve her of the clear terms of the PSA, including terminating alimony because of her cohabitation.
The important take away from Quinn is that the courts will enforce an alimony termination clause in the parties’ PSA if at the time of signing said agreement the parties had their own representation, were fully informed and there was no proof of fraud, overreaching or coercion.
If you need to discuss divorce, cohabitation, and alimony in NJ call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen, divorce lawyers in NJ, for a free comprehensive in office consultation.