Dec 17, 2008

Go to Jail, Lose Your Alimony? A New Definition of Cohabitation

In one of the more bizarre decisions in recent history, an appeals court in Florida has determined that a woman convicted of a crime and imprisoned in a cell with another inmate should have her alimony terminated because she is "cohabiting" with another person.

Technically, that's true, and in fact both the woman and her husband agree that she is cohabiting according to their divorce settlement agreement, which defines the term as "living with another person (not including the parties' child) for a period of 3 (three) consecutive months." However, the trial court in their case found the conclusion that this particular form of cohabitation met the intent of the agreement to be "unthinkably bizarre and at odds with any reasonable interpretation."

The appeals court disagreed, holding that because the woman conceded that the technical definition was met and also because her crime (driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, causing great bodily injury) involved voluntary acts known to bear the risk of incarceration, the interpretation was not absurd. One dissenting judge argued that the happenstence of being assigned a cellmate should not be enough to constitute cohabitation, and I have to throw my lot in with him and the trial judge. It's one thing to stretch the concept of cohabitation to include roommates even when they don't share expenses, but this is another realm of cohabitation entirely.

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