Changing/Ending Spousal Maintenance because of Cohabitation

In 2016 the State Legislature amended the law establishing the circumstances under which spousal maintenance can be modified, reserved, suspended or terminated based on a maintenance recipient’s cohabitation; this new subdivision can be found at Minnesota statute §518.522.

What exactly is cohabitation for the purposes of spousal maintenance?

Though it is not specifically defined in the new statute, cohabitation can be explained by its everyday uses. The conventional definition of Cohabitation denotes “liv[ing] together in a sexual relationship, especially when not legally married,” or “liv[ing] together as or as if a married couple.”

Take notice that, in each definition, living in the same residence (cohabitating) is necessary but not, by itself, sufficient to result in “cohabitation.” Rather the common usage of cohabitation assumes some additional level of romantic or sexual intimacy. Conversely, sexual intimacy alone does not create a “cohabiting” relationship unless the partners actively share a residence. Put slightly differently, both a shared residence and a romantic relationship are necessary antecedents to a showing of cohabitation.

Practically speaking, many instances of cohabitation will not be controversial. However, in light of this two-fold requirement, it is important not to assume that every case of a shared residence will translate to a viable motion for cohabitation. Likewise, it would be a mistake to reflexively accept a significant romantic relationship (which may even include significant time at each other’s home) as de facto cohabitation in the absence of an actual, shared residence .

It is important to note that aside from cohabitation, Minnesota statute § 518.522 has five other bases for changing maintenance.

1. Whether or not a party lacks sufficient property or is unable to provide for reasonable needs considering the standard of living established during the marriage.

2. After considering factors such as marital property, standard of living and duration, the court may award maintenance for a specific period of time, amount or duration as it deems just.

3. After considering factors such as marital property, standard of living, duration and contribution the court may award permanency for spousal maintenance.

4. After considering factors such as marital property, standard of living, duration and contribution the court may reopen maintenance awards.

5. Parties to a private agreement may expressly preclude or limit modification of maintenance through a stipulation.