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Court of Appeals Offers More Guidance on Cohabitation and Terminating Spousal Support

On July 21, 2015, the Virginia Court of Appeals issued another in what has been a series of relatively recent rulings involving the standard by which trial Courts must evaluate whether two individuals are cohabiting in a relationship analogous to a marriage in the context of a termination of spousal support. As addressed in prior entries to this blog, under Virginia law, an award of spousal support will terminate if the payee is "habitually cohabiting with another person in a relationship analogous to a marriage for one year or more."

In the most recent case, Coalson v. Coalson, a former wife was involved in a long-term romantic and sexual relationship with a new boyfriend. The facts were as follows:

•(1) The wife and boyfriend stayed together in the wife's residence four to five nights per week;

•(2) The boyfriend performed "chores," including cleaning and maintaining the wife's home;

•(3) The wife did the boyfriends laundry when he stayed with her;

•(4) The boyfriend kept his lawnmower at the wife's residence;

•(5) The boyfriend and wife cooked for each other and eight meals out together, for which the boyfriend typically paid;

•(6) The boyfriend often paid for groceries or other items for the wife's residence;

•(7) The boyfriend possessed a key to the wife's residence;

•(8) The boyfriend stored a number of boxes of personal belongings at the wife's residence;

•(9) The boyfriend and wife took 1 to 2 vacations per year, and often visited with the wife's family; and,

•(10) The boyfriend spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with the wife and her children.

It was also undisputed that the boyfriend did own or rent his own residence, which he shared with his son and a roommate, where he would stay two or three nights per week; the boyfriend did not stay at the wife's residence when she was away; and, the boyfriend only kept the most basic of personal items at the wife's residence, such as toiletries.

In this case, the Circuit Court of Hanover County dismissed the former husband's motion to terminate spousal support, finding that as a matter of law the wife and boyfriend were not "cohabiting." It was enough for the Circuit Court to find as a matter of law, as opposed to weighing the evidence, that the boyfriend keeping his own residence and staying there several nights per week, as well as having very little in the way of personal items at the wife's house, demonstrated that they did not "share a residence." The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, ruling that the lack of a shared residence did not even necessitate a determination whether the relationship between the wife and boyfriend was "analogous to a marriage."

This case is another strong case for spousal support recipients, and provides further guidance as to how they can maintain their receipt of spousal support, despite being in a long-term relationship that is otherwise similar to a marital relationship. If you receive or pay spousal support, and you wish to know whether that support may terminate based on your or your former spouse's circumstances, please contact an attorney at The Duff Law Firm, who can evaluate your facts and provide you with legal advice and representation regarding the same.

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