Can cohabitation end a spousal support obligation?

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2022 | Family Law |

If you’ve been ordered to pay alimony, then you know that the financial ramifications can be significant. It may prevent you from living the life that you once enjoyed, and it might even affect your ability to plan for the future and your children’s futures. This can be especially problematic if the alimony award is high and long-lasting.

Fortunately, there may be circumstances that allow you to seek modification or cessation of a spousal support order. A change in income on the part of either party may be justification enough, but another way to stop support is to address your former spouse’s cohabitation.

What is Virginia’s cohabitation law?

Under Virginia law, a spousal support obligation may be terminated if you can show that your former spouse is habitually cohabiting with another individual and the relationship between them is marriage-like in nature. Additionally, this cohabitation must occur for at least a year. It’s important to remember, too, that you have to prove this by clear and convincing evidence.

So how do you prove cohabitation?

 There are a lot of angles to take when dealing with this issue. To best build your argument, you may want to consider figuring out each of the following:

  • Where your spouse goes after work
  • Which residence your spouse leaves from in the morning
  • Who pays the rent or mortgage at that residence
  • Who pays for utilities at the residence
  • The nature of your former spouse’s relationship with the new individual

But how do you go about proving these elements? You can talk to neighbors, scan social media, and even depose your former spouse and his or her new love interest. A private investigator may prove beneficial, too.

Things to watch out for

Keep in mind that you have to abide by the law. You don’t want to end up stalking your ex-spouse or intimidating anyone. You also don’t want to improperly access his or her social media accounts, even if you know how to do so. Therefore, you need to make sure that you understand your limitations in investigating these matters and where you might need legal help.

Also, it’s important to know that even if you prove your case clearly and convincingly, your former spouse still has the opportunity to show by a preponderance of the evidence that termination of the support obligation would be unconscionable. This means that your former spouse would have to show that a cessation of alimony would be extremely unfair. So, be prepared for your ex-spouse to throw all kinds of arguments at the court in this regard and be ready to rebut them.

Do you need a legal ally on your side?

Dealing with spousal support issues can be stressful. Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself feeling cheated, which oftentimes leads to feelings of anger and resentment. But instead of channeling all of that energy into lashing out at your ex-spouse on social media or in text, email, or phone communications, think about focusing it on your legal strategy. After all, you may have a strong path toward achieving the outcome that is right for you.