Most divorces conclude with the parties mutually agreeing upon and entering into a Property Settlement Agreement. This agreement addresses, among other things, child support, alimony, equitable distribution (property obtained during the marriage) and life insurance.
In New Jersey alimony is calculated using several different factors. One of these factors is the length of the marriage. The Property Settlement Agreement will state specific triggering events which will result in the termination of alimony. Such events may be the death of the payor (individual paying alimony) or the payee (person receiving alimony) cohabitating with another individual.
In, Quinn v. Quinn, a recent New Jersey Supreme Court matter, the court ruled that a divorce agreement that calls for termination of alimony if an ex-spouse cohabitates with another person, even if that cohabitation is temporary, is enforceable. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a property settlement agreement that mandated the termination of alimony for a woman who lived with a man for a little more than two years after she divorced her husband of 23 years.
In Quinn v. Quinn the parties were married in 1983 and divorced in 2006. Two children were born of the marriage, both of whom are now adults. At the time of the divorce the husband was earning $208,000 a year while the wife was earning about $21,500 a year. The Property Settlement Agreement called for the husband to pay the wife $2,634 biweekly in alimony payments. The Property Settlement Agreement also said alimony payments were to be terminated if the wife cohabitated with someone else.
Beginning in January 2008 the former wife began cohabitating with another man. The former husband moved to have his alimony obligation terminated.
The court stated that once you make a deal, you’re bound by the deal, as long as it’s fair and equitable.
The record developed in this matter provided no basis to do anything other than to enforce the clear and unequivocal obligation by both parties to each other under the PSA.
The Supreme Court stated that if the court ruled in the former wife’s favor, it would confirm the former husband’s belief that his ex-wife could cohabitate, lie about it if caught, reject her boyfriend, have alimony revived, and then cohabitate again. The court stated that a settlement agreement is governed by basic contract principles. It is not the function of the court to rewrite or revise an agreement when the intent of the parties is clear.
The court stated that the parties cannot expect a court to present to them a contract better than or different from the agreement they struck between themselves. The court stated that when the intent of the parties is plain and the language is clear and unambiguous, a court must enforce the agreement as written, unless doing so would lead to an absurd result. The court stated that merely because the ex-wife terminated her cohabitation with the paramour does not mean alimony should resume.
The court stated that an agreement to terminate alimony upon cohabitation by fully informed parties, represented by independent counsel, and without any evidence of overreaching, fraud, or coercion is enforceable. The court stated that both divorcing spouses in the matter voluntarily entered into the property settlement agreement and that both were represented by counsel at the time. The court stated that marital agreements, including property settlement agreements that clearly and unequivocally provide for the termination of alimony upon cohabitation, are enforceable when the parties enter such agreements knowingly and voluntarily.
This case shows you how important every term is within the Property Settlement Agreement. The attorneys here at Gale & Laughlin ensure that you understand every term of the Property Settlement Agreement and its effects. It is imperative that you understand each provision of the Property Settlement Agreement prior to signing the document. Contact us with any questions you may have.