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Court says religious marriage doesn't end spousal support

An appeals court ruled that an ex-husband's obligation to pay spousal support doesn't end just because his former spouse had a religious commitment ceremony.

The case dealt with a former couple who were still settling the final terms of their divorce when the ex-wife decided she wanted to remarry. However, by the time the wedding day came around there were many issues that were still unresolved. She and her soon-to-be husband decided that in order to keep her divorce simple, they would not marry legally at the May wedding. Instead, they had a ceremony and signed a Jewish marriage contract.

Her ex-husband then stopped paying spousal support, alleging that the religious ceremony rendered her re-married, which ends the spousal support obligation under most state laws. An appeals court disagreed, saying that the marriage ceremony and contract did not conform to state code requirements and therefore had no effect on spousal support.

This case brings up a lot of interesting issues about the value of religious commitment ceremonies and documents versus legal documents. Of course, marriage documents and agreements that don't conform to state family law standards aren't valid for purposes of government benefits, life insurance policies, taxes, or other similar benefits. However, spousal support in particular is paid in order to help the spouse that earns less money or stays home to care for the children maintain their standard of living.

In a case where an ex-spouse is substantively married - meaning that they are back to sharing a life and all their expenses with another person - then there may be a good argument for terminating spousal support.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Commitment Ceremony Won't Stop Ex's Checks," Jeff D. Gorman, August 27, 2012.

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