Sep 30, 2022

Does Alimony Automatically End Upon Remarriage?

Sep 30, 2022 - Family Law by |

Going through a divorce is often extremely emotionally challenging and draining. And, in many cases, it causes significant financial challenges as well. If you’ve been ordered by the court to pay alimony to your spouse, it can be disruptive to your budget and lifestyle. Paying alimony to your ex-spouse can be a difficult, ongoing financial obligation. Though it typically doesn’t go on forever, as the purpose of alimony in most cases is to help non-earning spouses become financially independent, it can seem like it. 

So, what happens when an ex-spouse to whom you are paying alimony remarries? In most cases, alimony will terminate. But there are some exceptions to this general statement.

Background of Alimony Awards

In most states, there are three types of alimony:

  • Temporary Alimony – Also known as pendente lite alimony, this is typically awarded while the divorce is in process to help the non-earning spouse maintain his or her standard of living.
  • Short-Term Alimony – This can be awarded when the marriage was relatively short and, accordingly, the alimony typically is short in duration.
  • Rehabilitative Support – This can be awarded to help a supported spouse get back into the workforce.

These types of alimony have an end date which will be included in the marital settlement agreement or the divorce decree. 

In the case of long marriages, or where the spouse is unlikely to be able to support himself or herself, the court can grant long-term or permanent alimony. Maryland Family Law Section 11-108 provides that unless the parties agree otherwise, alimony terminates:

  • On the death of either party;
  • On the marriage of the recipient; or
  • If the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result.

Thus, by law, alimony terminates in Maryland upon remarriage of the spouse receiving alimony unless the parties have agreed to some other arrangement.

Note that in some states, alimony doesn’t end when the supported spouse remarries. For example, in Ohio, the paying spouse must petition the court to modify or terminate alimony and present facts that show a substantial change in circumstances from when the original award was issued. The judge can reduce or end support if the change in circumstances results in an unreasonable or inappropriate award. The court will take into account a change in the paying party’s wages or living or medical expenses. While a supported spouse’s remarriage often offers a strong basis to terminate alimony, it is not a foregone legal conclusion.

What If the Parties Have An Agreement?

Sometimes, the parties will enter into an agreement that alimony will continue even after the spouse who is being paid remarries. This might be because there is an amicable relationship between the parties or because the payor spouse wants to be sure that there are adequate resources for the children. Such an agreement might have been created for any number of other reasons. If the document is legally sound, the court will not challenge or question the agreement. In this case, alimony will continue even if the payee spouse remarries.

Similarly, the parties may have entered into a prenuptial agreement that provides alimony will end upon the remarriage of the partner being paid alimony. In most cases, if the Prenuptial Agreement otherwise meets the legal requirements for enforceability of a contract, the agreement will be honored by the court. 

Does Cohabitation End Alimony?

Does cohabitation end alimony? The answer is – it depends.  There are a number of cases in Maryland that have litigated this question under the Family Law statute referenced above. The most important Maryland case is Gordon v. Gordon, 342 Md. 294, 675 A.2d 540 (1996). 

In that case, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that the ordinary meaning of “cohabitation,” together with the factors developed by courts in interpreting “cohabitation,” needed to be applied to determine whether termination of alimony was warranted. The Court of Appeals opined, “the term ‘cohabitation’ implies more than merely a common residence or a sexual relationship…[it] connotes mutual assumption of the duties and obligations associated with marriage.” 

Further, the Court set forth a list of factors to be considered in determining whether cohabitation existed, including,

  • Living together in a joint residence,
  • A long-term intimate or romantic involvement,
  • Joint assets or common bank accounts,
  • Joint contribution to household expenses, and
  • Acknowledgment of the relationship by the community.  

If the living arrangement does not meet those factors, the arrangement will probably not be deemed cohabitation which will revoke alimony in Maryland.

Note that in a number of other states, the mere fact of cohabitation is not enough to terminate alimony. And in those states where cohabitation is sufficient to terminate alimony, it’s not automatic in most cases. The party seeking to terminate alimony must file a motion with the court and in many cases also prove changed circumstances.  

Remarriage of the Payor Spouse

If you are the payor spouse and you remarry, your alimony obligations to your ex-spouse do not change by virtue of your remarriage. Alimony is a legal vehicle to help the spouse who is less financially sound, and your remarriage likely has no bearing on your spouse’s financial circumstances. 

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation with Bethesda Alimony Attorney Brandon Berstein

Going through a divorce is a difficult and emotional period for most people. One of the major questions people have during a divorce is about alimony. Whether you will be paying or receiving alimony, there are many nuances involved in calculating alimony payments. 

If you are preparing to go through a divorce in Maryland and have questions about alimony, we encourage you to discuss your divorce, in confidence, with Bethesda alimony attorney Brandon Bernstein. Please call 240-395-1418 or request an appointment online today.