Law School Case Brief
Sanseri v. Sanseri - 2015 NY Slip Op 25128, 48 Misc. 3d 706, 10 N.Y.S.3d 389 (Sup. Ct.)
When a former spouse holds herself out as "economic interdependent" as though he or she were a spouse, a court, pursuant to Domestic Relations Law § 248 and the changes in the legislative commands regarding the economics of marriage during the last three decades, has the power to modify or terminate the maintenance. A court, having determined that it has the discretion under Domestic Relations Law § 248 to modify or terminate maintenance, the burden shifts to the spouse receiving maintenance to establish the basis for any future payments of maintenance. The burden of proof requires that the recipient show a need for maintenance by showing proof of necessity or the inability to maintain herself.
Before a husband and wife got divorced, as there were still issues remaining, the court ordered maintenance at the commencement of the action, based on the disparity of incomes between the couple. After the husband and wife separated, the wife admitted that she lived with another man, shared a bedroom, commingled her finances with her partner as they shared a joint checking account, and accepted an engagement ring from the partner. The husband sought to discontinue his maintenance payments to the wife.
In the absence of remarriage, can a trial court terminate maintenance?
The court held that the evidence at trial established that the recipient spouse was cohabitating and holding herself out as the economic partner of another man. This assertive conduct, cast in economic terms, was sufficient for the court to exercise its discretion to consider modification or termination of maintenance. Nevertheless, because the decision altered the landscape of Domestic Relations Law § 248, the court, in the exercise of the statutory discretion, permitted the recipient spouse to re-open the proof and present evidence that the continuation of maintenance was necessary to maintain independence for herself. Maintenance was suspended, pending the outcome of a hearing.
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