Pennsylvania court hears cohabitation case

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 11 2003 12:00 AM ET

The Pennsylvania supreme court will decide whether a man whose ex-wife is living with another woman can stop paying alimony to her. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Anthony and Robin Kripp, who divorced in 1998. Anthony Kripp has argued that he is no longer required to pay his ex-wife alimony because they agreed that the payments would stop after two years if she were to "cohabitate."

"These two people knew what 'cohabitate' meant to them...they knew when they were drafting the [divorce] agreement that it would terminate if she was living with anyone," said Anthony Kripp's attorney, Carolyn Mirabile.

Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy questioned whether the definition would apply if the woman were living with her mother; Mirabile said that it would. "So his real concern was not her cohabitating with this certain female?" Cappy asked. "Absolutely not," Mirabile said.

Anthony and Robin Kripp married in 1982, had three children, and separated in 1996. Anthony Kripp filed for divorce, and Robin moved to Kentucky and began living with another woman, according to court documents. Under a property settlement agreement negotiated by the couple, Anthony's $1,000-per-month alimony payments would end after two years if his ex-wife were to "cohabitate." After two years he stopped payment, saying his obligation had ended because she was living with another person.

She sued, seeking to have him held in contempt for stopping the payments. The Chester County court of common pleas denied her petition in October 2000, accepting Anthony Kripp's testimony about what the pair meant when they used the word "cohabitate." Robin Kripp was not present at that hearing. The case was appealed to the state superior court, which disagreed with the lower court ruling, saying that Pennsylvania case law has consistently regarded cohabitation as involving two members of the opposite sex living together as husband and wife.

In its September 2001 ruling, the superior court also said that the county court erred by accepting evidence from Anthony Kripp about what both parties allegedly intended by using the term. Robin Kripp also said her ex-husband failed to prove a sexual relationship with another person. The judges agreed--but said they did not have to consider the issue because of their ruling that same-sex partners could not be in "cohabitation."

"They didn't say whether it meant cohabiting as husband and wife, as girlfriend and girlfriend?" Justice Ronald D. Castille asked. "In the 1900s it meant one thing. In the 2000s it means something different."

Robin Kripp's attorney, Michael J. Reed, said the case has little to do with sexual relationships and much to do with contractual agreements. Anthony Kripp "did not provide a definition," Reed said. "He's the source of the ambiguity."