Contrary to popular belief, alimony awarded in a divorce case is not meant to be a punishment leveled towards the more financially successful partner in a marriage; rather, officials intend it to simply help one left financially disadvantaged by a divorce to transition into their post-marital life. 

Viewed from this perspective, one obligated to pay alimony to their ex-spouse may have no issue doing so (provided it is necessary). Yet at the same time, one also does not want their ex-spouse to take advantage of this benefit. 

Cohabitating instead of remarrying

How might one attempt to do this? The common perception is that as long as one receiving alimony does not remarry, their ex-spouse remains obligated to pay it to them. Thus, even if they enter into a new relationship, they may choose to cohabitate with their new partner rather than remarrying (believing that by doing so, they remain eligible to continue to receive alimony). Indeed, cohabitation is increasingly becoming a popular living situation in the U.S. Per the Pew Research Center, nearly 70% of American adults believe it to be perfectly acceptable. In fact, roughly 40% of those who do cohabitate cite convenience and finances as their reasons for doing so, Continuing to receive alimony could reasonably fall under the umbrella of financial reasons to cohabitate. 

Ending an alimony obligation due to cohabitation

Yet how does the law view one’s decision to cohabitate specifically to receive alimony? According to Section 20-109 of the Code of Virginia, should one receiving alimony enter into a supportive cohabitating relationship, their ex-spouse’s obligation to pay alimony ends if they remain in such a relationship for more than one year. In many cases, the burden of proof falls to the obligated spouse to prove that the relationship is akin to a marriage.