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What Is Palimony? How Does It Work?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Palimony sure sounds an awful lot like alimony, and it also works in a very similar way.

Alimony, of course, refers to spousal support payments made by one spouse to another as set out in either a settlement agreement following a divorce, or in a court order. By contrast, palimony refers to similar payments, but between two people who lived together as a couple but were never married.

How does palimony work?

The Case of Marvin v. Marvin

Palimony is not a legal term, but rather a combination of the words "pal" and "alimony" in reference to the special friendship of the two parties involved. It entered the collective lexicon following a landmark 1976 California case involving actor Lee Marvin.

In that case, known as Marvin v. Marvin, Lee Marvin was sued by his longtime girlfriend Michele Triola. Triola claimed that Marvin had agreed to support her financially if she gave up her own career and moved in with him to become a homemaker. When the unmarried couple split, Triola sued for what Marvin had promised: half of what he had earned during their relationship.

Although the couple's agreement wasn't in writing, the California Supreme Court nevertheless held that a written contract wasn't required for so-called palimony support, but that the conduct of the parties could create an implied contract.

Cohabitation Agreements

Although the court in Marvin found that a written contract was not required for an award of palimony, many modern-day courts do look for some type of written agreement. In most states and in most instances today, courts are most likely to recognize the rights of a cohabitant non-spouse in the property of the other cohabitant if the couple has entered into a cohabitation agreement.

Cohabitation agreements work to ensure both the fulfillment of promises between cohabitants, such as the one's Triola claimed Marvin made to her in their case, as well as to protect the property of a cohabitant from palimony claims following a break-up.

Performance Exceptions?

But even in states that require palimony agreements to be in writing, such as New Jersey, courts will sometimes enforce oral patrimony promises.

In the case of Roscoe Orman, the voice of "Sesame Street" character Gordon, a New Jersey court ruled that the mother of Orman's four children was entitled to palimony payments despite the lack of a written agreement. The court found that Sharon Joiner-Orman's sacrifices over the couple's nearly 40 years together, in reliance on Orman's promises of support, constituted a "performance exception" to New Jersey's written requirement.

In the absence of extraordinary circumstances, however, most courts will hesitate to enforce palimony agreements that aren't in writing. You can find a sample cohabitation agreement at FindLaw's section on Family Law.

If you have questions about the palimony laws in your state, or need help drafting an agreement, an experienced family law attorney can help.

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