FAMILY LAW MAINTENANCE & CO-HABITATION FACTORS: BLOCK V. BLOCK (COA 5/4/2007)

BLOCK V. BLOCK
FAMILY LAW:  MAINTENANCE MODIFICATION (CO-HABITATION FACTORS)
2005-CA-000666
PUBLISHED: VACATING AND REMANDING (MOORE)
DATE RENDERED: 5/4/2007

Ex-husband appealed family court’s order denying his motion to modify spousal maintenance. In the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement, it was provided that if Ex-wife should ever “reside with a member of the opposite sex not related to her by blood,” the family court could “entertain a motion of [Ex-husband] to modify maintenance as a result of [the] alleged cohabitation, … [and in reviewing such motion], the provisions of KRS 403.250 would control.” Ex-husband was to pay Ex-wife maintenance in the amount of $3,000 until September 2010. In December 2002, a male not related to Ex-wife by blood moved in with her, and shortly thereafter, they purchased a home and a boat together, resulting in Ex-wife’s decreased cost for housing, and they shared living expenses, paid from a joint account, which provided Ex-wife with a monthly savings of $400. Furthermore, they entered a written partnership agreement, modeled after a prenuptial agreement, setting forth their rights and obligations to any property they jointly purchased or acquired; and they engaged in a “commitment ceremony” that was identical to a marriage ceremony except that the words “lifelong commitment” were substituted for “marriage” throughout the ceremony. Based on these facts and the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement, Ex-husband motioned the court to modify his spousal maintenance obligation to zero. The family court denied Ex-husband’s motion, deciding that Ex-wife received only “some” financial benefit from her current relationship, and thus the circumstances were insufficient to meet the standard set forth by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Combs v. Combs, 787 S.W.2d 260 (Ky. 1990).

CA noted that “each [cohabitation] case is reviewed separately and on its own facts,” but that one principle is exceedingly clear from the caselaw: “absent a provision otherwise in a separation agreement, cohabitation is only one factor to consider in reviewing modification of maintenance cases.” CA looked to the factors enumerated in Combs, and held that while each of those factors should be considered, that case also requires that the cohabitation must result in a change in the cohabiting spouse’s economic position in order to modify maintenance. CA held that family court’s finding that Ex-wife enjoyed only some economic benefit from living arrangement was not supported by substantial evidence, and that, in fact, Ex-wife’s current relationship constituted a “new financial resource” for her, as described in Combs, and combined with the other factors in Combs, the evidence overwhelmingly indicated a change of circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the maintenance obligation unconscionable. On this basis, CA vacated family court’s decision, and remanded the case to family court, where the maintenance obligation should be reduced to zero. 

Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates, http://louisvilledivorce.com/dedicatedprofessionals/mapes/.

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