What does the new Massachusetts alimony law say about cohabitation?

The new alimony law bases the calculation of alimony, in large part, on the duration of the marriage.  The alimony law defines duration of marriage as the number of months from the date of marriage to the filing of a divorce complaint.  However, the law adds that “the court shall have discretion to increase the duration of marriage where there is evidence that the parties’ economic marital partnership began during their cohabitation period prior to the marriage.”  In other words, the court may find that a couple married for six years actually had a duration of marriage of nine years, since that is the point at which they began the intermingling of finances during cohabitation.  As a result, the payor spouse may end up paying more money in alimony where there was financial intermingling during premarital cohabitation.

The new alimony law mentions cohabitation again when discussing the termination of general term alimony: “General term alimony shall be suspended, reduced, or terminated upon the cohabitation of the recipient spouse when the payor shows that the recipient has maintained a common household, as defined below, with another person for a continuous period of at least three months.”  This means that the recipient spouse may lose alimony when he or she cohabits with a new partner for at least three months in a primary residence, has economic interdependence with the new partner, and the recipient spouse and new partner have a community reputation as a couple.  If alimony is terminated for this reason, the new law provides that alimony may be reinstated when the new relationship with the new partner ends.  If reinstated, the alimony payments will not extend beyond the original termination date.