I have not written a column about domestic law in well over a decade. However, our firm has expanded by hiring Stephen Bonanno, a top notch family law and DUI attorney.
Steve reminded me of this is a little known law with huge consequences. In general, Georgia allows for the award of alimony in divorce actions on a temporary or permanent basis, depending on the evidence and/or suggestions of legal extortion from the opposing party. And where permanent alimony is awarded, the law allows for modification of alimony where there has been a change in the income and financial status of either former spouse.
In general, the state of Georgia provides for alimony when one ex-spouse needs money to “get back on his or her feet.” Alimony is not meant to be a part of our permanent welfare state.
Georgia’s “Live-In Lover” law provides a method for reducing or terminating alimony without the necessity of proving a change in income and financial status, but instead, is based on the relationship with a “live-in lover.”
O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19(b) states, “Subsequent to a final judgment of divorce awarding periodic payment of alimony for the support of a spouse, the voluntary cohabitation of such former spouse with a third party in a meretricious relationship (similar to marriage) shall also be grounds to modify provisions made for periodic payments of permanent alimony for the support of the former spouse. As used in this subsection, the word “cohabitation” means dwelling together continuously and openly in a meretricious relationship with another person, regardless of the sex of the other person. Because people have differing work schedules and oftentimes must travel, the courts have held that a meretricious relationship does not mean that the paramour (live in love) must spend every night in his or her new home.
Accordingly, in analyzing the “live-in lover law”, let’s assume that Bob Doe and Patty Doe were married. Upon the granting of the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, the court ordered Bob Doe to pay to Patty Doe permanent alimony in the amount of $5,000.00 per month.
Bob Doe then discovers that Patty Doe’s new boyfriend has moved in with her. The two of them are an open romantic couple. Bob Doe now wants to terminate alimony payments to Patty Doe. Here is what Bob Doe must prove:
(1) Bob Doe will need to prove that Patty Doe and her boyfriend are in an “open and continuous cohabitation”. As stated in the statute, “open and continuous cohabitation” means dwelling together continuously when the boyfriend returns from work and spends time in such a manner;
(2) Bob Doe must prove that the two are in a meretricious relationship (i.e., the two are engaged in a sexual relationship and they are not married to each other), or
(3) Bob Doe must prove that the two are sharing expenses of cohabitation.
Georgia case law provides direction as well.
The Supreme Court in Hathcock v. Hathcock, 249 Ga. 74, 287 S.E.2d 19 (1982) clearly stated, “We previously have determined that disallowing alimony modification pursuant to a 1979 amendment to the live-in lover statute “would require those spouses to subsidize their former husbands and wives and their lovers who are cohabiting together.”
Morris v. Morris, 244 Ga. 120, 123, 259 S.E.2d 65 (1979). We later referred to the relationship contemplated by the General Assembly as one “similar in nature to marriage” or “akin to marriage.” Sims v. Sims, 245 Ga. 680, 682, 266 S.E.2d 493 (1980).
In both Morris and Sims, we concluded that the cohabiting former spouse does not have a “vested right to continue to receive full alimony from a former spouse while contemporaneously sharing living quarters (and thus expenses) with another (albeit unmarried) mate.” 245 Ga. at 683, 266 S.E.2d 493.”
Accordingly, the “live-in lover law” applies upon proof of sexual intercourse between the former spouse and the third party although no proof is offered tending to establish that the former spouse received from, gave to, or shared with the third party expenses of their cohabitation.
Conversely, the statute also applies upon proof that the former spouse received from, gave to, or shared with the third party expenses of their cohabitation although no proof is offered tending to establish sexual intercourse between the former spouse and the third party.
All elements of the statute must be proven: (1) open and continuous cohabitation (living together, vacations, extracurricular event, etc.), and either (2) sexual intercourse between the former spouse and the live-in lover; or (3) proof of shared living expenses.
Most of the time, a person receiving alimony will attempt to hide their actions. But, there are rare cases of poor judgment. Once a person is caught living with a lover, they cannot undo it. Moving vehicles around, sneaking around, and even breaking up will not prevent an action to terminate alimony. Competent attorneys advise their “alimony clients” to be discreet so that they can keep receiving a monthly check.
It is critical that a petitioner plans months in advance and has overwhelming evidence before he or she files such an action. The petitioner must win before the litigation begins. If not, he or she could be subject to having to pay the other party’s attorney fees.