"Live-in-Lover" Laws: Beware Your Alimony Payments!

Joseph Woodard
July 29, 2009 — 2,025 views  

As most people are aware, periodic alimony payments generally continue until the death or remarriage of a former spouse. For this reason alone, countless ex-spouses delay marrying new lovers. But what if your ex is having a relationship with a new person, but has not yet tied the wedding knot? Are you still responsible for making your monthly alimony payments?

Laws vary from state to state, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on the state of Georgia. In Georgia, a "live-in-lover" law has been enacted which states that after a divorce decree, should a former spouse cohabitate with a third party "in a meretricious relationship," periodic alimony payments may be modified. The law specifically states, however, that the relationship must be open, meretricious and continuous - period or sporadic sexual encounters are insufficient to qualify under the statute.

Under the Georgia "live-in-lover" law, even if there is definitive proof that a former spouse is engaging in such a relationship with a third party, there is no absolute right to a change in GA alimony payments. On a case by case basis, the decision on whether or not a court will modify alimony payments is ultimately up to that court.

Interestingly, the "live-in-lover" GA alimony law can be applied retroactively. This decision was made in 1979 in the case of Morris vs. Morris. Additionally, the official code of Georgia, statute 19-6-19(b) states that should a petitioner apply to the court for a modification of alimony based on this statute, if they should fail, the defending party is entitled to reasonable attorneys fees incurred in defending the action. Furthermore, if the divorce decree was issued prior to July 1, 1992, periodic alimony payments cannot be modified according to this statute. In the case where an alimony payment in Georgia takes the form of something other than periodic monthly payments, such as the award of a life estate in real estate, the life estate is not considered periodic alimony and thus would not be subject to the "live-in-lover" statute.

According to Georgia law, in order to state a claim for the modification of alimony payments the petitioner must demonstrate to the court that (1) the final decree awarded permanent alimony payments payable by (or to) the petitioner, and (2) the permanent alimony payments are payable in periodic payments rather than in a fixed or lump sum award (which is not subject to modification). In determining whether a payment is to be considered periodic or not, a court will look to such factors as whether or not the decree has any indication of a "gross" amount due, whether or not the decree states the exact number of payments without other limitations, and whether or not the decree specifies that the periodic payments are to be made until a given sum has been paid. In any of these circumstances, even if the payments are made "periodically," whether it be annually, monthly, or weekly, for the purposes of the "live-in-lover" alimony statute the payments are not considered periodic but rather are considered a "lump sum" payment which happens to be paid over a period of time.

About the Author

Joseph Woodard has been a practicing divorce attorney in Atlanta, Georgia for over 10 years. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he began his legal career at the Atlanta firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before forming his own firm. He received his undergraduate degree from Duke University, Phi Beta Kappa, with a degree in Religion.

Joseph Woodard