Unmarried couples do not have the same rights to support and property division as married couples. Therefore, a domestic partner may be left without financial support if they do not have a legally enforceable agreement. This situation is especially true when one party earned all the household income and owned most of the property. 

What is Palimony?

Palimony is spousal support for couples who live together but are not married. It is a promise or agreement between domestic partners. For instance, an unmarried partner promises to support the other unmarried partner even after their relationship ends. 

Until 2010, palimony was allowed in New Jersey under written or oral agreements for financial support between unmarried partners in a long-term relationship. Oral agreements could be implied or express agreements. 

Suppose a partner was induced to cohabitate based on the agreement that the other person would support them for their lifetime. In that case, the partner would have received palimony payments if the relationship ends under old New Jersey law. However, New Jersey palimony laws changed in 2010.

Current Palimony Laws in New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature amended the statute of frauds to include the issue of palimony. Section 25:1-5(h) of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (NJSA) now lists palimony as a contract that must be in writing to be enforceable. 

Therefore, under the current palimony law in New Jersey, a couple must have a written agreement signed before the non-marital separation. 

For palimony to be awarded, the following criteria must be met:

  • The couple was not married
  • The couple lived together
  • There was a written palimony agreement, non-marital agreement, cohabitation agreement, or other signed contract that made a promise to provide financial support 
  • The parties had separate attorneys who advised them regarding their rights about the agreement 
  • The payor of palimony must have signed the agreement in good faith and not under coercion or duress

If the above conditions are not met, the petitioning party is not eligible for palimony payments. 

The Palimony Laws Are Not Retroactive

If your agreement with your partner took place before 2010, a verbal palimony agreement might still be enforceable. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that couples did not have to anticipate a change in the laws that might invalidate their oral agreement for palimony payments. 

Therefore, if you can prove that you had an implied or express oral agreement for palimony before 2010, you could still be eligible for palimony payments. However, if the agreement was made in 2010 or after, you must have a written agreement for palimony to be valid.

Palimony Agreement vs. Cohabitation Agreement 

Palimony agreements mainly deal with financial support for an unmarried couple in case of separation. In some cases, the couple might include property division provisions in the palimony agreement. If the couple marries in the future, the palimony agreement may impact the divorce proceedings if the agreement relates to property matters.

A cohabitation agreement is a non-marital agreement that can grant the same rights to each party that a married couple would enjoy. 

Cohabitation agreements can cover topics related to:

  • Support
  • Property division
  • Health insurance
  • Powers of attorney
  • Other matters not covered by a simple palimony agreement

The choice between a palimony agreement and a cohabitation agreement depends on the couple’s specific goals and needs. In the case of a palimony agreement or a cohabitation agreement, the couples need to have separate legal counsel to protect their interests.

Where Did the Concept of Palimony Originate?

Palimony did not exist until the 1970 case of Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola. They were an unmarried couple in California. Triola’s attorney argued that while the couple had not married, they engaged in a marital-type relationship for six years. 

Triola and her attorney argued that she had given up her career when she became involved with Marvin. Instead of working and earning an income, she acted as Marvin’s confidante, companion, and cook. She did this with the promise of mutual support from Marvin.

Therefore, Triola argued that she was entitled to one-half of Marvin’s earnings during the six-year period and restitution for giving up her earning potential. She was basing her allegations on an implicit, oral agreement between the two parties.

The trial court ruled that Triola’s claim was similar to a claim of common law marriage. Accordingly, it denied the claim since common law marriage had been eliminated since 1895 in California. 

Triola appealed the trial court’s decision to the California Supreme Court. The justices found that the lack of a marriage license made the couple’s relationship different from a married couple’s relationship. It acknowledged palimony as a way to protect the financial rights of parties who separate after engaging in a marital-like relationship.

Because proving the validity and existence of oral arguments can be extremely challenging, New Jersey decided to require palimony agreements to be made in writing after 2010.