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It depends. Those who are ordered to pay spousal support (often referred to as “alimony”) to an ex-wife or ex-husband may be left without a date that they get to stop paying support. Under California law, if a marriage lasts longer than ten years the court will generally not set a given date for the termination of support payments. The court does have the ability to later change or end the spousal support order, unless there was an express agreement between parties that the order would not be modifiable.
It is common in a long marriage (over ten years) to have judgment documents that do not set a certain date for the end of support payments. However, there are many possible “triggering” events that will end the obligation to make support payments as a matter of law. These include the death of the person paying support, the death of a party receiving the support payments, and the re-marriage of a person who receives support payments.
There are other factors the court may consider when deciding whether to change or terminate a spousal support order. One of these factors is that a person receiving spousal support starts cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Many people refer to this as “shacking up.” The relationship must be more than just a legitimate roommate arrangement.
California Family Code § 4323(a)(1) states, “Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support…” This means that if a person can show the court that their ex is shacking up, then the ex must prove for the court that they should still receive spousal support.
Family Code § 4323 was recently changed by the California State Legislature. The term “nonmarital partner” was substituted in for what previously was stated as “cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex.” Obviously, that change was made to ensure that this statute also applies to support orders that are made in same-sex divorce case.
To sum it all up, the answer to this common question about ending a support obligation is very case specific. That is why we say “it depends.” The facts of each individual case must be carefully analyzed by competent legal counsel. The California Family Code does gives some hope to those who have been ordered to pay support by creating the presumption of decreased need for those who receive spousal support and shack up. Either way, a person cannot just stop paying court-ordered support without getting a new court order.
In a future blog article we will address the ways a person may go about trying to prove that their ex-wife, or ex-husband, or ex-partner is shacking up.
 Marriage of Thweatt (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 530.