Palimony: Getting Alimony Without the Marriage
"Alimony" for "pals" causes much confusion.
Posted Feb 07, 2018
During the past fifty years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of couples living together without marrying. Such nonmarital relationships result in legal uncertainties when one partner dies, or when the couple separates. This is exacerbated when one partner relies substantially on the other for financial support throughout the relationship.
The concept of palimony sounds very similar to alimony, and in practice, it is essentially alimony for separating couples who have cohabited, unmarried. Palimony can take many forms, from a one-time payout to monthly maintenance payments.
The term "palimony" is not historically recognized as a legal term, but is rather a somewhat facetious combination of the words "pal" and "alimony", coined by a celebrity divorce attorney. The term was made famous in the California Supreme Court case of Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 664, 557 P.2d 106 (1976). The case involved actor Lee Marvin and his partner, Michele Triola. Marvin and Triola lived together for a number of years without getting married, and Triola claimed that they "entered into an oral agreement that during the time they lived together they would combine their efforts and earnings and share equally the property accumulated through their individual or combined efforts, and that [Triola] would render services to [Marvin] as companion, housemaker, housekeeper and cook, give up her career as an entertainer and singer, and that [Marvin] would provide for all her financial support for the rest of her life." Unfortunately, Marvin subsequently forced Triola to move out, and refused to pay any support to her or give her any of his property. Triola then sued Marvin for "palimony."
The lower courts ruled in favor of Marvin, dismissing Triola's allegations. The California Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for trial, giving Triola another chance. Specifically, the Supreme Court concluded that even though there was no written agreement, Triola could still have a claim under implied contract, quasi-contract, or resulting trust.
This rules spelled out in the Marvin case apply only in California. Laws vary widely by state. However, some general factors that courts may consider include the length of the relationship, whether there are written or oral contracts regarding financial support, the ability of each party to provide for himself or herself, and any sacrifices made during the relationship.
Issues of palimony present implications for trust and reliance in romantic relationships. On one hand, if a partner willingly makes sacrifices for the other partner (for example, setting aside a career to raise children, or providing support for the other partner to finish school), with the full understanding that there is no legal protection, the sacrifice would be made willingly with a full understanding of the situation. It is an assumed risk. On the other hand, if a partner makes those sacrifices with the understanding that the relationship will continue indefinitely, or that he or she will be provided for in case of separation, then those sacrifices may be made under false assumptions and the harm is made worse by the broken expectations.
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Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 664, 557 P.2d 106 (1976)