Ask A Divorce Lawyer: Can cohabitation change alimony and child support?

Question: 

I was divorced about a year and a half ago. I was talked into sharing a lawyer because we didn’t have much money and she told me that she wanted to work thing out. I was misled. She got the house, 95% of the belongings, and I took the debt (exceeding $30,000). I pay $3,000 a month in combined alimony and child support. All told I’m left with about $1,000 a month to live on.

My ex has not worked since our two kids were born about 6 years ago. The kids tell me that she had her new boyfriend move in, she is now pregnant and they are getting married. I know it’s wrong, but I didn’t pay her alimony the past two months, only the child support, because I was so mad. Now that she’s married, she’s threatened to take me to court to get the unpaid alimony. She also wants to raise the child support amount.

What I want to know is, can she go after me for more child support? If she was cohabiting and they were giving her money (about half the house payment), can I argue for a lesser price in alimony? Is school supposed to be covered under child support? Can she get the child support raised? 

 

 
Answer:

 

Although I am licensed to practice law in Michigan, Cordell & Cordell does have an office in Kentucky, and I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney in your state because I can only give you general information. You should not rely upon this information as creating an attorney-client relationship, and you should seek counsel in your area for further instructions and suggestions within the parameters of the laws of your state.

I also sincerely discourage you from not using an attorney – judgment modifications are complicated, even if you think you know the extent of your marital property, your rights and what is a “good” outcome in the case. An attorney can properly advise you about your rights, which you are not expected to know but the judge will expect you to know if you represent yourself in court. For example, the judge is going to expect you to know how to argue for a spousal support reduction, or if you even can.

The answer depends on what your judgment states. If your judgment was for non-modifiable spousal support, in most states you cannot ask to reduce the support amount. In most states, however, you also must have agreed to non-modifiable support and released your rights to request a modification later. Read your judgment carefully to determine whether you did.

If your judgment is for modifiable support, then you may have an argument to reduce the support amount depending on the myriad facts in your case. One important fact is cohabitation. In Michigan, as in most states, the court may reduce spousal support (or even terminate it) if the support payee is in a cohabiting relationship. A cohabiting relationship is one marked with the signs of serious commitment akin to marriage – i.e., joint purchases, joint savings, joint debts, a financial dependence on each other, etc. The same is not true for child support. The amount of each parent’s child support is usually a proportionate share of that parent’s income in relation to both parents’ income for each overnight. Most states have mandatory or recommended child support formulas to calculate this amount.

Strange as it may seem, a parent with a higher income may end up paying child support even though he has his child (and supports his child on his time) as often as the other parent. However, most states will allow parents to motion for or consensually opt-out of the statutory amount under certain conditions. The conditions vary by state, and the likely success varies by the temperament of the judge or family court referee deciding your motion.

Voluntarily not following the current order impairs your credibility in court, that is certain. You should consult with an attorney in your area to discuss what options, if any, you have based on the particular judgments, orders and facts in your case.  

 

Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

 

 

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