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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Spousal Support > Cohabitation and Spousal Support in California

Cohabitation and Spousal Support in California


In divorces, it is not uncommon for one spouse to be ordered to pay some amount of spousal support to the former spouse. The purpose of such support being, in part, to off-set certain costs associated with higher costs of living under their new circumstances.

However – what if the spouse receiving spousal support payments begins cohabitating with someone? Is the former spouse still under the same obligation to make spousal support payments to them?

How Does Cohabitation Affect Spousal Support in California?

Cohabitation and spousal support are issues that often come to a head some time after a California divorce judgment and spousal support order has been finalized. What typically happens is one spouse is ordered to pay the other a set amount of spousal support for a set duration depending on whether the length of marriage was of short or long duration.

However, when a spouse making spousal support payments eventually comes to learn that their former spouse is in a relationship and cohabitating with that person, the paying spouse must file a request to modify or terminate the spousal support order.

What will the result be? What does cohabitation mean, and how does cohabitation affect an obligation to pay spousal support? In this article, we will answer the most frequently asked questions that you should know.

California Family Code Section 4323

The California law that establishes the rules for the effect of cohabitation on spousal support are found in California Family Code Section 4323. Important pieces of the law include:

  1. Unless the parties agree to something different, there is a rebuttable presumption that there is a decreased need for spousal support if the party receiving support is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. If the spouse receiving financial support is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner, the court might modify or terminate the spousal support order
  2. You do not have to claim to be a spouse to the cohabiting individual in order to be deemed “cohabiting.”
  3. The income of the new partner is not to be considered when determining the need to modify or terminate spousal support
  4. If circumstances change – and there is sufficient proof of that change – the spousal support order may be modified or terminated later.

Do Specifics of the Relationship Matter?

While the above gives a lot of information, it can be a lot to sort out. One important item you should take from the above is that cohabitation requires an interpersonal relationship. The law says “nonmarital partner.” This means if you find out that your ex-spouse is now roommates with their old best friend from back in the day, that roommate relationship may not be enough to change a spousal support obligation. This section of the law does not specifically define what, precisely, constitutes a “nonmarital partner.”However, any significant change in circumstances that reduces your ex’s needs may trigger a modification request.

Proving Cohabitation in California

So how does one prove cohabitation in California? What arguments might the paying spouse make in order to modify or terminate the support order? What counterarguments might be expected from an ex spouse contesting a spousal support modification request?

There are several ways cohabitation might be proved in the state of California. Some potential scenarios include:

  1. The former spouse simply admits it. Lying to the court amounts to perjury. Perjury can have serious consequences beyond simply a loss in some spousal support. Many individuals willingly admit to the cohabitation and change in their circumstances when brought under oath.
  2. The cohabiting person is brought to court under subpoena and they, too, risk perjury charges if they lie under oath.
  3. Bring in witnesses. Neighbors, friends, co-workers – any of these people could testify to what they have seen in their day to day lives and the relationship between the cohabiting people.
  4. Hiring a private investigator to gather evidence.
  5. Gather documentary evidence through litigation and the discovery process. If you bring a lawsuit, you are entitled to request pertinent documentation held by the other party that is relevant to the suit. This means that you could request, and they would be required to provide, copies of utility bills, a lease, mortgage, etc. that could show they are financially entwined.

Again, these are just examples. The right moves in your own situation can be analyzed by an experienced spousal support attorney at Cardwell Steigerwald Young. Our team can help you strategize your best path forward.

Arguments to Support an Spousal Support Reduction or Termination

First, the petitioning spouse must provide sufficient evidence that the ex-spouse who receives support is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Do not underestimate the importance of gathering hard evidence. Documentation of the interpersonal relationship and cohabitation. As discussed above, credible witness testimony in court. Even hiring a private investigator is an option. The court will not make a decision on hearsay or he-said-she-said. If you are claiming that a change should be made, be prepared to offer supporting documentation of the truth of that.

Arguments Against a Spousal Support Modification or Termination Request

First, the cohabitation really might be a platonic roommate relationship. If the spouse seeking the change in orders cannot provide sufficient evidence to the contrary, then they likely have no case.

Second, even if there is cohabitation with a nonmarital partner, if the cohabiting spouse can show that their need for the spousal support has not been reduced, then the reduction or termination of spousal support is not guaranteed.

Third, if the cohabitation with a nonmarital partner began prior to the spousal support order being issued, and the payor spouse knew about it, then the cohabitation is likely not a change. Because it existed before the order, the cohabitation itself is likely not enough to trigger a “change in circumstances” argument.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

The experienced San Francisco spousal support lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young have the experience needed to assess your case and help you to strategically navigate through the next best steps in your own divorce and spousal support case. Contact our office today to speak with our team.



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