Cary Goldstein, Esq.
Palimony - What is it and how does it work?
"Palimony" is the unmarried person's alternative to alimony. The term describes the financial support or property rights arising out of a non-marital cohabitating relationship that one may seek after separation. Historically, only married couples, and more recently, registered domestic partners, were automatically granted spousal support and/or asset sharing when the relationship ended. In contrast, unmarried partners (e.g., heterosexual or homosexual couples who had lived together) could not depend on such status-based rights. Usually, their only recourse was to sue for breach of an express agreement concerning financial support or property rights made during the relationship.
However, in 1976, the California Supreme Court expanded the range of remedies for unmarried cohabitants by allowing the enforcement of implied agreements. In Marvin v. Marvin, celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson argued that his client, plaintiff Michelle Marvin and her ex-boyfriend, actor Lee Marvin, had orally agreed to pool their earnings together and share equally any and all property accumulated during their relationship, in exchange for Michelle render[ing] her services as a companion, homemaker, housekeeper and cook. Although Michelle was not able to prove that there was an agreement, the California Supreme Court nevertheless held that unmarried cohabitants have the same right to enforce contracts and to assert property rights as do any other unmarried person. It is important to note that Marvin did not create new legal rights or causes of action for unmarried couples; rather, it merely extended existing causes of action to unmarried cohabitants.
Marvin marked a turning point in the law's treatment of domestic relations. Today, unmarried cohabiting partners enjoy many of the same legal and equitable remedies as their married and registered counterparts, and have a range of claims through which to enforce these rights, including breach of express agreement, breach of implied contract based on parties conduct, and an action to enforce a partnership or joint venture. These Marvin claims, as they are often called, require that one party has given valid consideration (e.g., rendering domestic services or something of value other than mere sex), which shows that the agreement between the couple was legally valid and therefore enforceable. Usually, full-time cohabitation, and in limited circumstances, part-time living arrangements, is sufficient, but not necessary, to show that consideration other than sex was involved (e.g., housekeeping, cooking, etc.). However, a court is less likely to assume valid consideration if the couple never lived together. In general, a living arrangement between a married man and his mistress will not be sufficient for purposes of a Marvin claim.
In addition, marriage will not in and of itself preclude a Marvin claim, since every married couple invariably dated and/or lived together prior to marriage. This is most likely the case if the marriage is short and adequate long-term spousal support is not possible. A Marvin claim must be filed in a separate civil action from the divorce proceedings, although the two may later be consolidated. Consolidation may, however, impact whether one may have a jury or bench trial, among other legal rights, so it is crucial to speak to a competent attorney before proceeding.
The law allows a window of time during which to assert a Marvin claim, so it is critical to know these time limitations and to file a claim on time. In general, the statute of limitations for breach of a written contract is four years, while a breach of an oral or implied contract is two years, the limitations period commencing when the non-marital relationship ends (usually by one party leaving the other).
Disclaimer: The information on these pages is intended to provide background information only. It does not have predictive value and should not replace the advice of competent legal counsel. The outcome of any case depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each particular case.
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