Palimony in New Jersey
Palimony is, essentially, an award of support from one partner to another made after a long-term unmarried cohabiting couple separates. Although not a legal term in New Jersey, palimony can be considered similar to spousal support in that it is awarded upon termination of the cohabiting relationship, subject to certain evidence.
Issues regarding palimony in New Jersey arise when couples choose to live together (or "cohabit") without entering into legal marriages, including same-sex marriages and civil unions. Like couples in marriages, cohabiting partners sometimes divide responsibilities in a way that leaves one partner financially dependent on the other. If the relationship comes to an end, however, unlike partners in a marriage, cohabiting partners, including registered domestic partners, have no right to alimony or marital property distribution. Sometimes the more financially well-off partner promises to continue supporting the other partner, but later has a change of heart. The dependent partner is left wondering whether any legal recourse is available.
Can I Claim Palimony in New Jersey?
If you are a New Jersey resident and you are not married or in a civil union but your partner has promised to provide you with financial support or share property with you, you may have a viable New Jersey "palimony" claim if one of the following is true:
- You have a written cohabitation or domestic partnership agreement that your partner signed after both of you received advice from separate attorneys, or
- You have a similar agreement that is not in writing, and you and your partner entered into it prior to January 18, 2010.
The law in this area is complex and has gone through many changes. Whether you have a written agreement or not, your best course of action is to consult with an attorney
experienced in palimony concerns to clarify your situation.
Differences between Palimony and Alimony
"Palimony" is not a true legal term the way that "alimony," "spousal support" or "spousal maintenance" (all of which generally mean the same thing) are legal terms. A couple cannot technically create marital property or provide one of the partners with a right to alimony by agreement, because the rules regarding equitable property distribution and alimony apply only to couples who are ending a legal marriage or civil union. One partner can, however, voluntarily assume a contractual obligation to provide the other partner with property rights or future financial support. The contractual obligation to provide financial support is sometimes called "palimony" because it generally has a purpose similar to the purpose of alimony. A better understanding of how alimony is determined and defined can be found in our article here: Alimony Factors in New Jersey
Palimony Claims without a Signed Cohabitation Agreement
For many years New Jersey law did not require a party to have a signed cohabitation agreement to prove that an intimate partner had made a promise to provide financial compensation (palimony). This changed on January 18, 2010, when an amendment to the New Jersey "statute of frauds" went into effect. Since that date, only a written agreement that is signed after independent attorney consultations can be the basis of a valid palimony claim. In the 2014 case of Maeker v. Ross, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified that the requirements of the statutory amendment are not retroactive. This means that if you have an agreement that is not in writing but predates the amendment, you may still be able to prove your claim in court. However, you should be aware that a bill currently before the New Jersey Legislature seeks to close this loophole. If passed, the bill would make the written palimony requirement retroactively apply to all palimony agreements, even those from before 2010. In our opinion, it is in your best interest to put your existing oral agreement in writing as a future safeguard and always be sure to consult an attorney for the most up-to-date legal advice.
Do you think you could be entitled to palimony in New Jersey? In light of the recent changes, do you each need to consult an attorney over your exiting palimony agreement? Or are you interested in creating a palimony agreement to clarify your legal position in the event of separation from your long-term partner? Contact us for these answers and more. We can help.
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