The Supreme Court of Virginia last week reversed a lower-court decision after a man sued his ex-wife, alleging she broke provisions of their spousal support agreement by entering into a cohabiting lesbian relationship and becoming engaged to be married.
After their divorce, Michael Luttrell in 2008 agreed to pay his ex-wife, Samantha Cucco, monthly spousal support payments for eight years, provided she did not remarry or cohabitate with anyone in a marriage-type relationship.
Mr. Luttrell brought the lawsuit against his wife in 2014, alleging she had broken terms of the spousal support agreement after becoming “engaged to be married” and “cohabiting continually” with her fiancee, who is a woman, for at least a year.
Ms. Cucco did not deny the accusation but said the provision did not apply to the state definition of “cohabiting” because she was living with a woman.
The law defining cohabitation for the purpose of spousal support agreements in 1992 described the practice as people living “together in the same house as married persons live together, or in the manner of husband and wife.” But an amendment to the law in 1997 made the language gender-neutral.
The Circuit Court for Fairfax County and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Cucco, but the Supreme Court of Virginia, in a decision handed down last week, reversed those decisions, saying the courts “erred” by interpreting the statute “only to refer to opposite-sex relationships.”
The Supreme Court vacated the award of attorneys’ fees won in the lower court rulings and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which represented Mr. Luttrell in the case, praised the decision for equally applying the law to same-sex couples.
“The court made the correct ruling in this case, which is to recognize that all laws regarding marriage must be applied equally regardless of the gender of the individuals involved,” ACLU of Virginia legal fellow Gail Deady said in a press release Monday. “Marriage equality means marriage equality.”