Domestic Partnerships and the Continuation of Maintenance

Postings in two divorce and family law blogs highlight a growing conflict between the states on how to deal with a parties continuing obligation to pay alimony or maintenance, as it called in New York, if the former spouse enters into a domestic partnership.

To frame the issue, what happens if you are obligated to pay maintenance to your ex, but your ex rather than  re-marrying, enters into a domestic partnership? A number of states have enacted civil union or domestic partnership statutes which grant same sex couples some, but not all, of the rights and privileges of marriage. Maintenance or alimony typically terminates when the receiving spouse remarries.

The New Jersey Law Blog provides an excellent survey of the issue, contrasting a case from Virginia, which held as a result of the domestic partnership alimony should terminate, and one from Oregon, which held that the support obligation should continue.

The Florida Divorce Blog reports on a California decision in which the court ruled that a domestic partnership “is mere cohabitation and not a marriage.” Therefore, the alimony payments were ordered to continue.

To avoid uncertainty and litigation, this issue must be addressed in a settlement agreement at the time of divorce. If it is the parties’ intention that maintenance should terminate in the event of a cohabitation (same sex or opposite sex), the entry into marriage or a domestic partnership or civil union, the settlement agreement should make special provision. The failure to address t his issue exposes the parties to an unknown and presently unpredictable future determination.

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