Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cohabitation - What Is It?

How does Indiana define cohabitation? Looking back at the Indiana cases on the subject (check out the cohabitation archives link below), I think we have a rather loose definition compared with, say New York. Florida Divorce titled her post on this subject with this headline: New York: Cohabitation is … in the Eye of the Beholder.

But what is “cohabitation”? That depends too.

New York’s highest appeals court recently addressed that very issue. In a case where a settlement agreement provided that alimony terminate if the wife lived with a new significant other for “60 substantially consecutive days”.

The evidence showed that she did in fact live with her significant other for the specified time period. What’s the issue?

Under prior New York case law, the intermediate appellate court concluded that cohabitation required “sharing of finances”. And that this “couple” did not do.

New York’s highest court held that the definition of cohabitation depends on diverse factors and the parties’ intent.

The decision is expected to incite much litigation over cohabitation as applied to the specific facts of particular cases.

Florida’s counterpart to NY law on “cohabitation” sets forth the factors comprising a “supportive relationship”.

While it is never safe to predict a court, I cannot imagine the mere living together for 60 days creates cohabitation that creates a legal obligation. Indiana does not have a definition that we can condense into one or two words. Yet, I think the intermingling of assets and income focused upon in our cases requires more than mere living together.

I find a better comparison in New Jersey for Indiana:

Getting back to Baynes and the Johnsons, the New Jersey court took an important step back from making every dating relationship the potential target of a palimony suit. By refusing to award damages for years wasted in a broken relationship or for lost opportunities or disappointed hopes, the court moved the inquiry back to where it belongs: the actual promises expressed by the parties or implied by their actions. Pursuing a long-term relationship with a man known to be married to another, not to mention a man known to be supported by his wife, hardly sustains a claim that Fiona Bayne and Earl Johnson had a contract that he would support her indefinitely at a standard of living that only his wife could afford. Palimony cases are meant to protect starry-eyed lovers from exploitation by partners who promise everything, but honor nothing. They are not meant to elevate every ill-advised affair to the social or legal status of marriage.

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