Can I Terminate Alimony If I’m Living With My Partner?

Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance, is a highly sensitive topic for those going through a divorce. It is designed to assist the lower-earning spouse in maintaining a similar standard of living post-divorce. However, determining the amount and duration of alimony can often feel arbitrary, leaving many wondering when it is appropriate to terminate these payments.

In the state of Wisconsin, there are several reasons why alimony payments can be altered or stopped completely. One straightforward scenario is when the ex-spouse receiving alimony remarries. But what happens if they are not married but living with someone else? Does that alone justify terminating alimony? Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple yes or no.

To gain a better understanding of when we can or cannot change an alimony order, let’s examine a real-life case. But first, let’s review some basics. Alimony is a court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other, either for a specific period or indefinitely. Its purpose is to help the recipient spouse achieve financial independence or maintain a similar standard of living. In Wisconsin, alimony is generally only considered if the marriage lasted over ten years.

Once the court determines the alimony amount, it is possible to modify or terminate payments by demonstrating a significant change in circumstances that would impact the necessity for alimony. While courts are more inclined to adjust the amount rather than terminate it altogether, exceptions do exist, such as when:

Cohabitation and Alimony

If a spouse receiving alimony enters into a de facto marital relationship, it can be grounds for terminating alimony. But what does that mean precisely? De facto marriage refers to a relationship where a couple lives together and shares financial responsibilities, akin to a married couple.

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By reading this, one might assume that any time a spouse moves in with someone else, it would justify terminating alimony. However, it is not always that straightforward.

In 1983, the Wisconsin Supreme Court addressed this very issue in the case of Van Gorder vs. Van Gorder. In this case, the husband was ordered to pay indefinite alimony to his ex-wife as part of their divorce settlement. Ten years later, the ex-wife began living with her new partner and assumed joint financial responsibilities, such as paying the entire rent.

Naturally, the husband filed a motion to terminate the alimony payments, arguing that his ex-wife was engaged in a de facto marital relationship and therefore no longer entitled to alimony. This may seem like a classic example of a situation that would warrant an end to alimony. However, the trial court’s decision to terminate the payments was ultimately overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Why did the Supreme Court reverse the decision? The answer lies in recognizing that cohabitation is just one factor among many considered when determining whether to terminate alimony. Simply living together is not sufficient grounds for ending payments. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered a reconsideration, focusing on whether the living arrangement had significantly changed the ex-wife’s economic circumstances.

To better understand, let’s consider a scenario. Imagine a person receiving alimony using that money to pay rent on an apartment. Then, they enter a new relationship and decide to move in together, splitting the rent and bills evenly. On the surface, it may appear that the alimony recipient is using the funds to support someone else. However, if they would have had to pay rent regardless, did this new living arrangement provide them with a significant economic advantage?

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Now, consider another scenario where the ex-spouse receiving alimony enters a relationship with a wealthy partner, who pays the rent and bills entirely. In this case, the alimony is used for personal expenses like purchasing new clothes or expensive gadgets. As you can see, this scenario presents an entirely different situation.

The complexities lie in the various “what if” scenarios surrounding alimony. Trial courts need to consider cohabitation alongside several other factors. Engaging an experienced lawyer and maintaining proper documentation significantly helps ensure fair judgment in court. Overall, terminating permanent or indefinite alimony is a challenging task. It is advisable to establish specific stipulations during the divorce regarding when or how alimony might cease. In most cases, it is easier to seek adjustments to the payment amount rather than a complete termination.

Remember, navigating the realm of alimony requires a clear understanding of the rules governing court decisions. By delving into these topics, we aim to provide you with greater clarity and a grasp of the factors influencing family court rulings.


Terminating alimony when a recipient is living with a new partner is not as simple as it may seem. A de facto marital relationship alone is not sufficient grounds for ending alimony payments. Courts take into consideration various factors, including cohabitation, when deciding whether to modify or terminate alimony. To ensure a fair judgment, it is crucial to work with an experienced attorney and maintain proper documentation. Ultimately, achieving adjustments to the amount paid is often more feasible than stopping alimony entirely.


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