Bell v. Bell
393 Mass. 20, 468 N.E.2d 859 (1984)

  • Mr. Bell and Mrs. Bell got a divorce. As part of the divorce settlement, Mr. Bell agreed to pay alimony to Mrs. Bell until one of three things happened; she died, remarried, or “lived together with a member of the opposite sex, so as to give the outward appearance of marriage.”
    • That’s third one is known as a cohabitation clause.
  • Mrs. Bell started dating a dude named J.R. They maintained separate residences, but always slept in the same bed. They didn’t share assets, but they did share furniture and expenses and took vacations together, etc.
  • Mr. Bell decided that this counted, and stopped paying alimony. Mrs. Bell filed a contempt complaint to force Mr. Bell to continue paying.
  • The Trial Court dismissed the complaint. Mrs. Bell appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that sharing a bedroom with J.R. on a regular basis for three years was enough to count as “living with a member of the opposite sex.”
      • Basically, the Court found that ‘shared intimacy’ equaled giving the outward appearance of marriage.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Mr. Bell appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the cohabitation clause should be read to only come into effect when Mrs. Bell had acquired “significant actual support” from a new man.
      • In this case, J.R. wasn’t really supporting her financially.
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and found that Mr. Bell did not have to pay alimony.
    • The Massachusetts Supreme Court looked at the plain language of the cohabitation clause and found that it should be read as the Trial Court read it.
      • The Court found that the clause could have been written to say that alimony only ends when Mrs. Bell gets a new source of financial support, but that’s not the way it was written.
  • In a dissent it was argued that, although Mrs. Bell and J.R. were involved in a relationship, they were not technically living together, and certainly not giving the “outward appearance of being married.”
    • Basically, they felt that ‘shared intimacy’ shouldn’t be the standard for giving the outward appearance of marriage, there needed to be an economic aspect to the relationship.
      • The ‘dead’ and ‘remarried’ clauses negate the alimony because Mrs. Bell wouldn’t need it anymore. But J.R. wasn’t giving her any money so she probably still needed to alimony.