Palimony is a word that comes from “alimony” (the word for support paid by one spouse to another spouse after a divorce) and “pals” (friends or unmarried people). In the early 1970s, when Michelle Marvin, the girlfriend of actor Lee Marvin, asked a California court to order Mr. Marvin to pay her support based on a promise, the court created the word “palimony.” The comparison of palimony to alimony is a little misleading, as alimony is based upon marital obligations while palimony is based upon a contract to pay support.
When does a court award palimony?
Palimony is only awarded by a court when one party to a relationship can prove that the other agreed to provide financial support to the other, either for a period of time or for life, in exchange for living in a marital-type relationship. This includes giving up marriage and filling the emotional, social, and romantic needs of the other. This has been an important source of financial support for people who have given up significant educational and employment opportunities in favor of focusing their attention on the relationship, rearing children, or helping the career of the romantic partner who earns more.
How can a person prove that there was a contract or agreement for palimony?
New Jersey courts have held that there are three ways to prove a palimony contract or agreement:
- By showing a written contract. A written contract is a document with the terms of the agreement and is signed by both people in the relationship.
- By proving that there was an oral contract. An oral contract is proven by words spoken that include a specific promise to provide ongoing support in exchange for something (usually being in the relationship).
- By proving that there was an implied contract. An implied contract is the hardest kind of agreement to prove. A person trying to prove this kind of contract must show that what the other person said or did meant that he or she promised to support the other person, even if they never used the words “I promise to give you ongoing support.”
Do unmarried people have to live together in order to prove a palimony contract?
Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that while a marital-type relationship may be needed to find a palimony implied contract, cohabitation (living together) is not a necessary part of such a relationship or palimony contract. This decision concerned many people, because they feared that individuals who were in long-term relationships may become unwittingly subjected to palimony obligations. That is, without intending to promise to provide support, some people may be required by courts to make palimony payments as though they had an implied contract, even if they do not live with their romantic partner.
Does the agreement have to be in writing?
This fear prompted the New Jersey Legislature to pass a bill limiting palimony to written contracts. Now the courts may not enforce an oral agreement or an implied agreement to provide ongoing support at the end of the relationship.
Right now, it is not clear how the courts may decide cases involving unwritten palimony agreements made between unmarried people before the new palimony law was enacted.
Example: A couple lived together for 15 years and raised two children together before this new law was passed. That may have been sufficient to prove an implied contract for ongoing support before the new law. But it is not clear whether the new law will prevent courts from enforcing the provable implied contract or whether the law is limited to relationships entered into after the law was passed.
There may be a lawsuit filed with the court to challenge whether or not the new law violates our Constitution because it interferes with private oral or implied contracts that were formed before the law was enacted.
If you are living with someone but you are not married, and you expect your partner to support you financially even if the relationship ends or your partner dies, it is very important that you put any agreement or understanding that you have in writing.
Under the written palimony statute, palimony agreements must include the terms of the understanding. Here is a short checklist for your written palimony agreement:
- Include specific terms, such as what items or services are being promised in exchange for other items or services.
- Have an attorney review the agreement for you (each person should have his or her own attorney review the agreement).
- Sign the agreement (you and your partner should both sign).
It is not always easy to talk about the end of a relationship. But putting these things in writing helps both people to better know what to expect in case of a breakup or death.
This article is from the May 2010 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.
This information last reviewed 5/18/10.