Palimony is a claim for support between unmarried persons first recognized in California in 1976 in the case of Marvin v. Marvin. New Jersey Courts will recognize a claim for palimony if the right set of circumstances exist. Given the widespread practice of non-marital relationships and societies’ acceptance of such relationships, the courts have adjusted their views of unmarried persons’ rights and obligations in light of these societal realities.
However, it is one thing to seek palimony and another to obtain it. In order to obtain palimony, the party seeking it must prove that the other party promised – either expressly or impliedly – to support the other party for some period of time – perhaps forever. Since a promise of support and reliance on that promise is a contract, which under contract principles must have consideration, New Jersey Courts have determined that the entry into a marital-type relationship and then conducting oneself in accordance with its unique character is sufficient consideration to enforce a promise of support.
A marital type relationship is 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. And each couple defines its way of life and each partner’s expected contribution to it in its own way. Whatever other consideration may be involved, the entry into such a relationship and then conducting oneself in accordance with its unique character is consideration in full measure.”
Until recently, Courts in New Jersey required cohabitation for a palimony claim. In a very significant turn, the Supreme Court of New Jersey in the case of Devaney v. L’Esperance, held that cohabitation is not a necessary requirement for palimony. It is the promise to support, coupled with a marital type relationship that will support a valid claim.
As in most family law cases, the facts of each particular case are determinative of the outcome. In the Devaney case, the Plaintiff, as a young woman, had begun a romantic relationship with her employer, a married doctor, which relationship lasted for 20 years. They had dinner several nights a week, the Defendant began paying some of her bills, and they vacationed together, but rarely did Defendant stay overnight at the Plaintiff’s residence when not traveling. After ten years, the Defendant had still not divorced his Wife, as promised, and the Plaintiff moved out of state.
While out of state, the parties kept in touch, and the Defendant sent Plaintiff money and visited her a few times. At the Defendant’s request, the Plaintiff moved back to New Jersey into a condo that the Defendant first leased and then purchased. He also bought her a car, gave her money for expenses and paid for her undergraduate and graduate education.
The parties continued to see each other several times a week, but the Defendant rarely stayed overnight, spending only six or seven overnights at the condo in total. They talked of having a child; however, one or both of them changed their mind. The Defendant ultimately decided to terminate the relationship.
When the Plaintiff started seeing someone else, the Defendant filed an action for ejectment to remove her from his condominium. The Plaintiff filed a claim for palimony.
The Lower Court found that although the Defendant made general promises to the Plaintiff that he would take care of her, and Plaintiff did become financially dependent, the Defendant never promised to provide Plaintiff with life time support. The Plaintiff argued that the parties had an implied agreement; however, the Lower Court found that such an agreement requires a “marital type” relationship. Since the parties had not cohabited, had not spent significant time together, had not commingled property and did not hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife, they did not have a “marital type” relationship.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Lower Court’s holding that cohabitation is an essential element in a case for palimony. The Plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. In reviewing all of the case law leading up to this case, the Supreme Court did not find that cohabitation was a necessary requirement for a successful claim for palimony. The Court stated that a more flexible approach is needed to achieve substantial justice. It is the express or implied promise to support, coupled with a marital type relationship that are the indispensable elements to such a claim, not cohabitation.
While the Supreme Court in this particular case held that cohabitation is not necessary for palimony, the Court still affirmed the Appellate Court’s decision which denied the Plaintiff palimony because there was sufficient evidence for the trial judge to reject Plaintiff’s palimony claim.