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Six Things You Must Know About Spousal Maintenance and Cohabitation in Arizona

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Six Things You Must Know About Spousal Maintenance and Cohabitation in Arizona are in this article.  Cohabitation with a new partner can conflict with Spousal maintenance agreements.  In one case, the appellate court decided the definition of romantic cohabitation as it applied to wife’s receipt of spousal maintenance.

A person holding a wallet filled with cash.

Spousal Maintenance falls under the jurisdiction of A.R.S. §25-319. In the case of Chopin v. Chopin (224 Ariz. 425, 232 P.3d 99, 2010), the Arizona Court of Appeals scrutinized whether the Wife was residing with her boyfriend. This determination played a crucial role in deciding whether the Husband was obligated to continue spousal support payments to the Wife. In their divorce agreement, both parties had mutually stipulated that the Husband would fulfill the spousal maintenance terms as long as the Wife cohabited solely with a specific individual. The agreement explicitly prohibited the Wife from engaging in “romantic cohabitation” with anyone else while still being eligible to receive her spousal maintenance payments.

Spousal Maintenance Agreements Are Contracts:

When a spousal maintenance agreement is incorporated into the decree, as it was in Chopin, the spousal maintenance agreement retains its independent contractual status and is governed by principles of contract law.  LaPrade v. LaPrade,189 Ariz. 243, 247, 941 P.2d 1268, 1272 (1997)

Your Contract Is Interpreted Based On Your Intentions.

According to Arizona law, contracts must be interpreted “in light of the parties’ intentions as reflected by their language and in view of all circumstances,” as emphasized in Harris v. Harris (195 Ariz. 559, 562, ¶ 15, 991 P.2d 262, 265, App.1999). The courts underscore the importance of giving words their ordinary, common-sense meaning when construing contracts, as highlighted in A Tumbling–T Ranches v. Flood Control Dist. of Maricopa County (220 Ariz. 202, 209, ¶ 23, 204 P.3d 1051, 1058, 2008).

Outside Evidence Usually Won’t Be Considered:

Extrinsic evidence is inadmissible if it “would actually vary or contradict the meaning of the written words.” (Citing Long v. City of Glendale, 208 Ariz. 319, 328, ¶ 29, 93 P.3d 519, 528 (App.2004)  Where the parties’ definitions of “romantic cohabitation” were similar in Chopin, the lower trial court could consider outside evidence.

The Court Will Examine A Dictionary When There Is No Legal Definition.

The term “romantic cohabitation” lacks a legal definition in Arizona. In the Chopin case, the court consulted dictionaries for clarity. According to Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004), ‘cohabitation’ means living together, often suggesting sexual relations. The Chopin court also referred to Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed. 2001), defining “cohabit” as living together as if married. Additionally, ‘romantic’ implies resembling a romance, and ‘romance’ is defined as carrying on a love affair.

Romantic Cohabitation Has a Definition:

These include factors such as the duration of cohabitation, the time spent together, the nature of shared activities, the interrelation of personal affairs, joint vacations, and spending holidays together. However, in Arizona, a clear principle emerges: cohabitation is not recognized if the individuals are not living together.

A Houseguest Is Not Your Roommate.

In this instance, the wife’s boyfriend visited weekly, but visiting once a week doesn’t make someone a roommate. If your spousal agreement lacks a cohabitation clause, be aware of changing tax laws.

Starting in 2019, alimony tax deductions ended for divorcing couples. In a recent settlement conference, no attorneys were aware of this change. If you’re considering divorce, seek legal advice, especially in collaborative law, as Arizona lacks a specific spousal maintenance calculator.

 

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