Law Articles

Spousal Maintenance and Cohabitation 15/07/2011

Remarriage automatically terminates spousal maintenance obligations. However, cohabitation with a new partner does not. So how can one determine if one’s former spouse is cohabiting with another person or not? In Grey v Grey the Judge initially assessed the fair level of ongoing spousal periodical payments at £125,000 per annum. Child maintenance was agreed at £15,000 p.a. The Husband's contention throughout was that the Wife's cohabitation and relationship with her new partner should reduce, or extinguish, his obligation to continue to pay her maintenance.

The Husband appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded the following:

1.The unchallenged evidence established actual cohabitation throughout the five weeks of surveillance and the commencement in November 2006 of a situation in which the Wife’s new partner was a regular member of the household.
2.The Wife had presented a false case both in preparation for trial and at the trial itself. She was caught out in her deception by the Husband's investigations through his agents.
3.The Wife's only motive for her false case was to protect her periodical payments claim from reduction to reflect the arrival of her new partner in her life.
4.The explanation for her partner’s presence as a member of her household throughout the five weeks preceding trial was fundamentally implausible.
5.The judge should not have accepted the Wife's evidence on this topic without corroboration.

Based on the Court of Appeal’s finding, the Judge in Grey v Grey (2010) was forced to accept that the Wife was indeed cohabiting with her new partner and that the level of spousal maintenance should be amended. The judge assessed the Wife’s needs at ‘more or less' £100,000 and on that basis reduced the level of spousal maintenance to reflect the contribution the Wife’s new partner was making (as assessed) and increased the child periodical payments figure to take account of the Husband's increased earned income since the original trial!

When considering the issue of cohabitation, rather than following a checklist, it is advisable to survey the whole course of the relationship and to query the duration of it and the level of commitment demonstrated by the evidence (financial and otherwise). Actual cohabitation in one home as a family will most likely be decisive, however, it is not an absolute necessity.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.



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