A recent case in New Jersey could make it more difficult to bring palimony cases, according to lawyers involved in its appeal. In Maeker v. Ross, the state’s Appellate Division said palimony agreements must be in writing at the time of the breakup in order to be enforceable.
Putting the ‘Pal’ in ‘Alimony’
In simple terms, palimony is the equivalent of spousal support for unmarried couples, sought when unmarried but cohabiting couples break up, and one partner promised to support the other for life. Some states recognize it, but others do not, and the rules vary as to how courts can apply it.
“Unlike spousal support, which has many common themes from state to state, palimony is very state-specific and is not even available in many states,” explains Eric Solotoff, a partner with Fox Rothschild in Roseland, N.J., who worked on the case.
The term “palimony” was coined in reference to the 1970s case in California brought against the actor Lee Marvin by his former live-in partner, Michelle Marvin. Add “pal,” as in friend, to “alimony,” and you get “palimony,” an attempt to do for unmarried-but-serious couples who split up what alimony does for the married ones.
Jersey Struggles with Palimony
New Jersey passed a law in 2010 requiring all palimony agreements to be in writing in order for them to be enforceable.
“Before the statute, palimony could have been based upon an express promise and also could have been based on conduct (as an implied promise) even though the words were never spoken,” says Solotoff.
“In more recent years, the NJ Supreme Court even held that parties did not even have to live together for there to be a palimony claim,” says Solotoff. “Because of the backlash caused by that case and the implied promise cases, the legislature passed a bill to overturn those cases, requiring that all agreements be in writing in the future.”
In Maeker v. Ross, the parties had been living together in a 10-year relationship, with Mr. Ross financially supporting Ms. Maeker. When they broke up in July 2011, Maeker sued for palimony, despite the fact that they had no written agreement and the 2010 law was already on the books.
The trial judge allowed the suit to go forward, reasoning that since the relationship itself began long before 2010, the law didn’t apply, explains Solotoff.
The appellate court disagreed, saying that Maeker’s right to palimony didn’t actually exist until the couple split in July 2011. The fact that there was an implied promise for support, made many years before, didn’t matter. The court sent the plaintiff packing, but the fight’s not over yet.
Maeker has appealed to the state Supreme Court, Solotoff confirms. “We will be opposing it and the Supreme Court does not have to consider this matter,” he says.
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