In any long-term relationship, either partner can entertain thoughts of “what happens if this ends?” When partners are married, a concerned spouse can simply look up information on divorce law to get a rough idea of how marital assets could be divided in divorce and how much alimony they may receive to help maintain their marital lifestyle.
For unmarried cohabiting partners, answering this same question is not so easy. An unmarried couple cannot technically create marital property and rules regarding alimony don’t apply.
So what can unmarried couples do to protect themselves? The answer is “palimony,” which refers to financial compensation or property rights that one cohabiting partner agrees to give to the other partner should the relationship end.
Are you in a cohabiting relationship and curious about what a palimony agreement could offer you? Here are some dos and don’s and how-to tips for establishing a palimony agreement in New Jersey.
What can palimony cover?
The term “palimony” was actually coined by journalists in the 1970s when actor Lee Marvin was sued by his former live-in partner Michelle Triola for financial compensation. Celeb gossip magazines at the time needed a catchy phrase to describe what was at stake in that case and palimony stuck. (Palimony is a mashup of partner + alimony.)
As Bari Weinberger wrote in her recent article for the New Jersey Law Journal, “NJ Palimony, Prenups & Cohabitation Agreements: Why Partners Shouldn’t Accept “My Word Is My Bond” Promises“:
To clarify, “palimony” is not a true legal term. Rather it’s a contractual concept in which one partner voluntarily assumes an obligation to provide the other partner with property rights or future financial support.
Bari also listed some common terms that palimony agreements typically touch on, including:
- One partner agreeing to make financial payments to the other to help defray living expenses (rent, food) should the relationship end. This may be a lump sum payment.
- One partner providing financially for the other partner because that partner gave up their career to stay home and care for the children.
- Agreeing to split a 401K equally between the partners in the future.
- Agreeing to transfer certain property, i.e., giving the family home to the partner who has the kids most of the time.
Palimony Tip: Be specific about what you want. Common problems in palimony agreements are overly vague terms (i.e., “I promise to take good care of you, no matter what.”) or overlooked unfair terms (i.e., a partner giving up too much for not much in return). If you are giving up your career to stay home with the kids, for example, think about hidden expenses like the cost of job retraining once your children are grown. These types of terms can be included as part of your agreement.
How do you establish a palimony agreement
Since 2010, palimony agreements in New Jersey have been governed by strict rules that require the following:
- Agreements must be in writing.
- Each party must have their own attorney review and advise them regarding the agreement.
If you are creating a palimony agreement in 2022, a good first step is to meet with a family law attorney to understand your best options for the agreement. You are your partner may work through the terms together or use a process like mediation to help you figure out what your agreement should include. The document is then put into writing. Each partner takes it back to their attorney for independent review. If all looks well, the document is fully executed and kept on file.
Now, here’s where things can get tricky. Some long-term partners still have agreements that pre-date 2010. The big difference is that before 2010, oral palimony agreements were allowed. If you happen to be in one of these older relationships and have an oral promise from your partner to provide for you, the courts can still decide to honor your agreement. These pre-2010 agreements are grandfathered in under the old rules.
However, it’s strongly encouraged to still take the time now to get it in writing with legal counsel review for both parties. Getting it writing matters because it can give you more protection in court. It’s also an opportunity to update your terms. Are you living a different home than you were over a decade ago? Have either of you lost or gained income and/or wealth? Are there major changes in your health or your lifestyle as a couple? Any applicable factors can be incorporated into your written palimony agreement.
If you have questions about palimony agreements — how to write them or what to do about an older oral agreement — we can help. To discuss your best options, please contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our highly experienced family law attorneys. Please call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below.