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Cohabitation and Spousal Support in Illinois

People are often concerned about dating after divorce for a variety of reasons, but something that often gets left out is the effect of dating after divorce on a person's spousal support. In most states, spousal support, also known as alimony, terminates when the supported spouse gets remarried. Illinois is one of the rare states where spousal support can terminate prior to remarriage. Section 510(c) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act states that if the supported spouse starts “cohabiting” with someone, then alimony terminates. Importantly, the ordinary, everyday definition of cohabitation looks very different than the legal definition, with the legal definition being considerably more expansive.

What Courts Look at

Courts in Illinois have a five-factor balancing test for determining if a couple is cohabiting in a legal sense. The five factors are:

  • How much time the couple spends with each other;
  • How long the couples relationship has lasted;
  • How wound together the two peoples affairs are;
  • What sorts of things the couple does when they spend time together; and
  • How the couple spends holidays and vacations.

Importantly, this is a balancing test, not a checklist. What that means is that a couple need not rate highly in all of these categories to count as cohabiting. Instead, the court will look at the situation in its entirety, and balance the different factors against each other. Different courts in Illinois may also weight factors differently, so one court may care very much about how long the couple has been dating, while the other may focus more on whether the couple commingles their finances.

How This Works Out

From a practical standpoint, this rule tends to be viewed as favoring the supporting spouse rather than the supported spouse. Relationships that no lay person would consider “living together” have been legally ruled to be cohabitation. For instance, there was a 2006 case where the couple had been dating for three years. They both had their own homes, and did not financially support each other. But, they lived close to each other, saw each other a few times a week, sometimes spent the night at each others homes, and they spent holidays and vacations together. Those facts were enough that the court decided that they were cohabiting. That meant that the supported spouse lost her right to receive her alimony. Of course, not all courts would have come out the same way given the current state of flux surrounding this area of law. Still, spouses receiving spousal support should keep this potential pitfall in mind when they enter into new relationships.

Although divorces are finalized, there may be trailing issues such as spousal support that still need tending to. If you have questions about the ramifications of filing for divorce, contact an experienced Naperville divorce lawyer today.

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