Cohabitation Can End a Spousal Maintenance Requirement

After a divorce, one party may be required to make spousal maintenance payments to the other for a designated period of time. Sometimes called alimony, spousal maintenance is intended to help offset the financial impact of divorce to a spouse who, in many cases, seeking to regain independence and self-sufficiency. Most court-ordered support awards include a provision regarding the duration of payments, either for a limited number of months or years or until the death of a party. However, certain situations may supersede the court’s discretion and terminate a maintenance obligation automatically.


The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act contains the state’s provisions regarding spousal maintenance, including the grounds for its termination. Unless the parties have agreed otherwise, and the agreement has been approved by the court, there are three scenarios in which future maintenance payments obligations are lifted. The first includes the death of either party, regardless of the time remaining on the order. The second situation covers the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance. By entering a subsequent marriage, the receiving party is no longer reliant on a former spouse for support.

Cohabiting Instead of Marriage

The third possible termination scenario is the most complicated. The law states that future support obligations are terminated “if the party receiving maintenance cohabits with another person on a resident, continuing conjugal basis.” The use of the word “conjugal” provides that a traditional roommate situation would not jeopardize the maintenance order, but it is exactly that word that has led to a number of court decisions over its complications.

In most situations, “conjugal” has sexual connotations. Courts in Illinois have decided, however, that, when considering spousal maintenance orders, the existence of a sexual relationship between cohabiting partners is essentially immaterial. According to legal precedent, a sexual relationship does not automatically make the arrangement conjugal, nor does a conjugal arrangement require a sexual relationship. Instead, the courts have defined conjugal to mean a “de-facto husband and wife relationship,” based on personal interactions, the combining of household and personal finances, and the amount of time spent together, not sexual activity. Thus, if the court finds that the residential situation to be equivalent to that of a marriage without the formalization, maintenance will be terminated.

If you are currently paying or receiving spousal maintenance and are unsure about how your life decisions may affect your existing order, contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney. We will work hard to provide the answers to any questions you may have and help you understand your legal options. Call 708-518-8200 today to schedule a free consultation at one of our three convenient office locations.