If your ex-spouse or ex-civil partner is cohabiting with their partner and you have a consent order in place, which has been approved by the court and under which you are making income payments to your ex-spouse, there is no automatic effect on that order. However, cohabitation can influence both the amount and term of an order in three main ways and it is, therefore, important to be aware of the ways in which cohabitation has the potential to affect a party’s obligations to comply with such an order.
Firstly, it may be relevant at the stage of actually making the original order as to how much and for how long any maintenance should be made payable. Secondly, cohabitation can provide a specific reason within the financial order for terminating such periodical payments – this, of course, depends on the wording of the order. Thirdly, cohabitation may provide a party with a basis for making an application to the court to vary an order for periodical payments.
The cohabitation of the payer or payee may have a negative or positive impact on that person’s financial circumstances. The capital or income of the new partner and whether they are willing to share it or keep their finances completely separate is also relevant. They might also have children to support, debt or other financial commitments.
Cohabitation is not statutorily defined in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and it can be quite difficult to determine; the court will take into consideration the intentions and motivations of the individuals involved. The relationship in its entirety can be assessed to establish whether a couple is cohabiting but unless the cohabitants are permanently living together under one roof, it can be difficult to prove.
If you are concerned by your ex-spouse’s or civil partner’s cohabitation with a new partner or you are contemplating or are cohabiting with a new partner, it is important to seek specialist legal advice at the first instance. The cohabitation could have an impact on yours or your ex-partner’s obligations under the consent order, or it could provide either party with a basis to make an application to vary the existing order – whether that is to terminate, reduce or even increase the level of periodical payments payable.