No matter how long a relationship lasts, if the union isn’t officially recognized then getting financial support post-breakup is a difficult road.
About 7% of all unmarried couples in the U.S. Many of these couples act in many ways as married couples. They buy homes together and have children. But what rights do they have when they part ways?
New Jersey recognizes palimony (alimony between unmarried romantic partners) but only in limited circumstances. The Garden State requires a written agreement before the state will enforce one partner to pay financial support to another.
Palimony Hit the Mainstream in the 1970s
The concept of palimony became a hot topic in the 1970s among social, media, and legal circles. The actor Lee Marvin kicked out his long-time girlfriend Michelle to marry another woman in 1970. He paid Michelle a monthly allowance until he unexpectedly stopped in 1971.
She took him to court the following year, asking for financial support and property. She said the actor had promised to pay her for the rest of her life. Whether she had the right to seek support eventually went to the California Supreme Court in 1976.
The court ruled that non-marital contracts that are express, implied, oral, or written are valid if proven to exist. This court decision set the stage for unmarried partners in California to sue for property division and other financial support when the relationship ends.
As for Michelle, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered Marvin to pay her $104,000 during the 1979 trial. The Court of Appeal reversed the award saying she did not prove the existence of a contract to support her.
Michelle didn’t get anything from Marvin in the end, but palimony was born and has remained a possibility in many states.
Evolution of Palimony in New Jersey
Until 2010, New Jersey courts could award palimony in cases where a written or oral contract existed. The New Jersey legislature amended Title 25 Frauds and Fraudulent Conveyances statutes to exclude oral contracts.
The law was amended to specifically include unmarried couples in Section 25:1-5(h):
“A promise by one party to a non-marital personal relationship to provide support or other consideration for the other party, either during the course of such relationship or after its termination. For the purposes of this subsection, no such written promise is binding unless it was made with the independent advice of counsel for both parties.”
That change meant palimony could only be awarded in specific circumstances and oral contracts were not eligible:
- The couple is not married.
- The couple lived together.
- There is a written palimony agreement or cohabitation agreement or other signed contract that made a promise to provide financial support.
- Each party had separate attorneys who protected and advised them of their rights in the agreement
- The person responsible for paying the palimony must have signed the agreement in good faith without coercion.
If you can prove you had a pre-2010 oral agreement, a court might still find it enforceable.
Palimony Rules Change Again
The 2010 change is not the end of New Jersey’s palimony story. As mentioned earlier, the amended fraud law required both parties to retain separate attorneys to represent them in the creation of the written palimony agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court says otherwise.
In the case of Moynihan v. Lynch, the state’s highest court ruled in March 2022 that the attorney requirement was unfair, particularly to a partner who cannot afford one. The court noted that no other family law agreement requires independent counsel in order for a written agreement to be enforceable.
Having an experienced attorney review any agreement and offer legal guidance remains advisable.
Protect Yourself with Enforceable Agreements
Like prenuptial agreements, a palimony or cohabitation agreement can protect your rights and interests if the relationship fails. At Lane & Lane, LLC, we evaluate the entire financial picture of your partner and you to create a roadmap for a fair palimony agreement.
For couples who want to go beyond financial support, our law firm offers guidance for cohabitation agreements to include support, property division, powers of attorney, and other aspects not covered by the narrower scope of a palimony agreement.
Learn more about your palimony rights by scheduling a consultation with our family law attorneys. Call (908) 259-6673 or contact us online to get started.