Since the 1970s, the number of persons living together without the benefit of marriage has dramatically increased. While unmarried couples are without the same protections and rights as married couples, the courts have recognized that sometimes an unmarried person has the right to financial support from his or her former partner after the relationship ends. This right of support is usually termed “palimony.”
Early case law
The law of palimony in New Jersey has changed through the years. In early court cases in which palimony was ordered, the court found that one of the partners promised to support his or her partner in exchange for the other partner taking care of him or her while they were living together. Statutory law did not directly deal with the subject. Three seminal court cases-Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, decided in 1979, Crowe v. DeGioia, decided in 1982, and In re Roccamonte, decided in 2002, carved out some of the legal requirements and rights for palimony:
- A promise between unmarried cohabitants for support, whether express or implied, may be enforceable.
- The entry into a marital-type relationship and then conducting oneself in accordance with its unique character is consideration to enforce a promise for support.
- A marital-type relationship has been described in general terms as one in which people commit to each other, foregoing other liaisons and opportunities, doing for each other whatever each is capable of doing, providing companionship, and fulfilling each other’s needs, financial, emotional, physical, and social, as best as they are able.
Subsequently, in the 2008 case of Devaney v. L’Esperance, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that cohabitation was not an indispensable element of a palimony action, overruling a number of prior cases that held that it was. The Court stated that the essential elements to show a right to palimony were (1) a promise to support, whether it was implied or express, and (2) a relationship that resembles a marriage. The court further noted that cohabitation is relevant but circumstances such as education, employment or involvement in the military may prevent couples from living together.
Change in statutory law
In 2010, the Legislature officially addressed the issue of palimony by amending the Statute of Frauds, N.J.S.A. 25:1-5, which deals with promises or agreements that are not binding unless they are in writing. Specifically, subsection (h) was added to include “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”. In other words, the amendment effectively enforces palimony agreements only in those instances where the agreement has been reduced to writing and the parties have each had the benefit of independent counsel.
Current Case Law
In 2013, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, went one step further in deciding the case of Maeker v. Ross, 430 N.J. Super. 79 (App. Div. 2013). In that case, a lower court ruled that plaintiff was entitled to palimony from defendant, even though the palimony complaint was filed after the effective date of the Amendment to N.J.S.A. 25:1-5(h), because the alleged contractual relationship existed prior to this date. The Appellate Court overturned this ruling, stating that even though the alleged contractual relationship existed prior to the effective date of the Amendment, the parties had time after the Amendment was enacted to execute a written palimony agreement and establish compliance with the Amendment. The Court further reasoned that because palimony actions are based upon principles of contract, a plaintiff’s cause of action accrues at the time the defendant is alleged to have breached the agreement, not at the time the promise of lifetime support was purportedly made. Thus, to bring a palimony claim, a plaintiff must have a broken promise of continued support. The plaintiff has appealed this ruling to the New Jersey Supreme Court and the case was argued on May 5, 2014. The decision is still pending.
If you are in an unmarried relationship that is in the process of ending, you should contact an experienced family law attorney, who will investigate the facts of your situation and help you determine whether you or your soon-to-be ex may be entitled to palimony.