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Bell v. Bell

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
468 N.E.2d 859 (1984)


Facts

Mr. Bell (the husband) (defendant) and Mrs. Bell (the wife) (plaintiff) divorced. The divorce agreement ordered the husband to pay alimony until the wife died, remarried, or lived “together with a member of the opposite sex, so as to give the outward appearance of marriage.” The agreement also prohibited the couple from interfering with one another’s personal liberties. The wife began living with another, man, J.R., on a part-time basis and eventually lived with him at his apartment most of the time for a period of three years. The apartment was in J.R.’s name, and J.R. paid the rent; the wife received her mail at her own home; and J.R. and the wife did not comingle assets. The husband stopped paying alimony, citing the terms of the divorce decree. The wife filed a contempt complaint. The probate court dismissed the complaint. The appellate court reversed, interpreting the divorce agreement to mean that the husband’s alimony obligation could terminate under the cohabitation clause only upon another man financially supporting the wife, which J.R. did not do. The husband appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (O’Connor, J.)

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Dissent (Abrams, J.)

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Dissent (Wilkins, J.)

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