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.
Spousal Maintenance is governed by A.R.S. §25-319. In Chopin v. Chopin, 224 Ariz. 425232 P.3d 99 (2010) the Arizona Court of Appeals examined whether or not a Wife was living with her boyfriend. This was an important determination in whether Husband had to continue to make spousal support payments to Wife. In their divorce, they had both agreed Husband would pay spousal maintenance terms so long as Wife only cohabitated with one specific person. Wife was not permitted by the agreement to “romantically cohabitate” with anyone else and still be entitled to receive her spousal maintenance payment.
- 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. Under Arizona law, contracts “are to be given a reasonable construction” and “read in light of the parties’ intentions as reflected by their language and in view of all circumstances.” Harris v. Harris,195 Ariz. 559, 562, ¶ 15, 991 P.2d 262, 265 (App.1999). “Contracts are to be construed to give words their ordinary, common sense meaning.” 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. “Romantic cohabitation” is not a statutorily defined term and there are no Arizona cases interpreting “romantic cohabitation” as used in spousal maintenance agreements. The Chopin court said, “Focusing our attention on the words at issue, we turn to dictionaries for their common and ordinary meaning. Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘cohabitation’ as ‘[t]he fact or state of living together, esp. as partners in life, usu. with the suggestion of sexual relations.’” Black’s Law Dictionary 277 (8th ed. 2004). The Chopin court reasoned that Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “cohabit” as “to live together as or as if a married couple.” Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 222 (10th ed. 2001). “Romantic” means “consisting of or resembling a romance.” at 1013. “Romance” is defined as “to carry on a love affair with.” Id.
- Romantic Cohabitation Has a Definition: The trial court determined “romantic cohabitation” means “living together and behaving as a married couple.” Not every married couple lives together or shares finances, so the Court looked at other states’ definitions. Other states have defined romantic cohabitation as: 1) its length; (2) the amount of time [the couple] spent together; (3) the nature of the activities they engaged in; (4) the interrelation of their personal affairs; (5) their vacationing together; and (6) their spending holidays together.” But, Arizona, one thing is clear: You aren’t cohabitating if you aren’t living together.
- A Houseguest Is Not Your Roommate. In this case, wife’s boyfriend visited her once a week. And, a once a week guest is not a roommate.
Does your spousal maintenance agreement include a cohabitation clause? Are you still negotiating the spousal maintenance agreement in your marriage? Remember the tax laws change in 2019 for alimony for divorcing couples. I was recently at a settlement conference where no other attorney in the room was even aware that the tax deduction for spousal maintenance ends in 2019. If you think you may divorce or legally separate, and spousal maintenance will be paid, get legal advice about collaborative law, stat. Without an agreement you may be stuck in trial arguing over the amount of maintenance and the duration. And remember: There is no spousal maintenance calculator or spousal maintenance guideline in Arizona!