How Can Remarriage Affect Alimony?

Alimony or spousal support is a court-ordered requirement for one spouse to pay the other after a divorce or legal separation. Alimony may be awarded in a case involving a large income disparity between two spouses, or if the lower earner gave up a career or education to take care of the household during the marriage. In most cases, if the supported party remarries, an alimony order is automatically terminated.

How Is Alimony Determined?

Under California Family Code Section 4320, alimony or spousal support can be ordered by a court if one spouse exhibits financial need and the other has the means to provide financial support. The courts can consider the potential recipient’s earning capacity, marketable skills, job market, and the time and money it would take to develop job skills to determine if a party is able to maintain the standard of living that was established during the marriage. If not, the higher earner may be ordered to pay alimony.

The Effects of Remarriage on Alimony in California

In general, a spousal support order will remain in effect until such a time as the courts deem appropriate. The duration of an alimony order will depend on the length of the couple’s marriage, the age of the recipient, and the amount of time it will reasonably take for the recipient to become financially independent. An alimony order can be terminated early, however, in certain circumstances.

California Family Code Section 4337 states that an alimony obligation will automatically be terminated upon the remarriage of the recipient, except as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing. Under this law, a spousal support order will be terminated without the need for a court hearing or legal processing if the supported spouse gets remarried. Note, however, that this rule does not apply to temporary spousal support awarded while a divorce or separation is pending.

California’s alimony provision does not take into account the financial means of the recipient’s new spouse; regardless of his or her financial situation, the supported spouse’s remarriage will be enough to automatically terminate a spousal support order. The paying spouse will no longer be required to make alimony payments as of the date of the recipient’s remarriage.

Cohabitation and Alimony

Cohabitation, or two people who are involved in a romantic relationship living under the same roof without being married, is treated differently than remarriage in terms of alimony payments. Under California Family Code Section 4323, if a supported spouse begins cohabitating with a nonmarital partner, this could be enough of a change in circumstance for the courts to agree to a modification or termination request made by the paying party. However, termination will not be automatic.

Upon learning that a recipient has moved in with a new romantic partner, the person responsible for making alimony payments has the right to submit an alimony modification or termination request with the family courts in California. This is because cohabitation creates a “rebuttal presumption” of a recipient’s decreased need for financial support. This can help the paying party prove that an alimony payment should be reduced or stopped altogether based on the recipient’s new financial situation.

Note that while remarriage will automatically terminate an alimony order in California, it will not affect a child support agreement. Modifying a child support order based on a change in the other parent’s financial status may be possible, but this must be officially requested by the paying party and approved by the courts. For legal assistance or advice regarding remarriage and alimony in California, contact a San Diego family law attorney at Boyd Law.