People who live together in New Jersey (NJ) often worry about whether they will be able to handle their financial matters independently if the relationship ends. The legal landscape surrounding this issue has changed substantially in recent years, warranting real concern about the viability of palimony in NJ.
"Palimony" is an amount of money ordered by a court to be paid from one unmarried partner to another after the end of the couple's relationship. It's a catchy, "nonlegal term coined by journalists" that caught on with the American public. However, the basis for palimony is very different than the basis for awards of alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance.
Let’s review the development of the law regarding palimony in NJ to understand these claims better.
The Early Days of Palimony in NJ: Kozlowski v. Kozlowski
Palimony was first recognized in the U.S. in 1976 in California. In the landmark case Marvin v. Marvin, the California Supreme Court allowed an unmarried woman to proceed in court on an alimony-like claim against her live-in partner, an actor.
A few years later, palimony was first recognized in NJ. It all started in 1962, when a NJ business man and a female Polish immigrant moved in together. The woman acted as a homemaker, and the man continued earning income in his business. Some of their children from earlier marriages were raised in their home.
A few years later, the woman moved out after a disagreement. The man pleaded with her to move back in, "insist[ing] that they would be happy together for the rest of their lives . . . [and] that he would take care of her and provide for her" if she would return. However, he rebuffed her suggestions that they marry.
About one week later, the woman moved back in and resumed her prior role. Several years later, she moved out after learning that her partner was interested in another woman. They had lived together for 15 years.
A legal dispute arose, and in 1979, the Supreme Court of New Jersey recognized that the woman was "not entitled to alimony or equitable distribution," as the parties had never been married. Nonetheless, it found that the two had entered into an agreement in 1968 when they reconciled. Under that agreement, the man had promised to take care of the woman "for the rest of her life."
The Court thus affirmed the trial judge's ruling granting the woman "a one-time lump sum judgment" in an amount adequate to support her for life.
After the Court's decision in Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, palimony in NJ was routinely allowed by courts around the state. Different legal theories were used to reach this result, mostly centering on the breach of a contract between the partners.
Major Changes to Palimony in NJ: The Legislature Takes Action
More than 30 years after the Kozlowski opinion, the NJ Legislature passed a bill making it harder to recovery palimony in NJ.
All U.S. states have laws called "statutes of frauds," which list the types of contracts that must be in writing to be enforceable. The purpose of these laws is to prevent fraud; in other words, the laws are designed to keep one of the parties from saying that there was a contract when there really was not. Most commonly, these laws require contracts relating to land purchases to be in writing.
NJ has long had a statute of frauds. In 2010, however, this law was amended to require palimony agreements to be in writing. Here's part of what it says:
A promise by one party to a non-marital personal relationship to provide support or other consideration for the other party, either during the course of such relationship or after its termination [must be in writing]. For the purposes of this subsection, no such written promise is binding unless it was made with the independent advice of counsel for both parties.
In other words, the new law requires three factors to be met for a palimony agreement to be enforceable in court:
-The two people must be in a "non-marital personal relationship";
-One of the partners must make a "promise . . . to provide support or other consideration for the other party"; and
-Both parties must have had "independent advice of counsel," meaning that they each had separate attorneys.
In addition, the law requires that for a legal action to be brought based on this type of agreement, the promise must be "signed by the party to be charged." This means that the person against whom palimony is requested must have signed the agreement. As you might imagine, requiring these agreements to be in writing has significantly restricted valid palimony claims in NJ.
The Current Law on Palimony in NJ
The current legal landscape on palimony in NJ combines case law, starting with Kozlowski, with NJ's statute of frauds requirements. New Jersey does not typically recognize "common law marriages," however, palimony claims can be successful with a written agreement, stating there is a promise for support to be paid if the marriage ends in divorce. This written agreement can be enforced in court.
Most of the time, successful claims for palimony in NJ involve partners with very different income levels who lived together for many years. One of the parties must have promised to support the other financially for a period of years or for life.
In addition, because of the new statute of frauds provision, there must be some form of writing of the promise of support, the writing must be signed by the person who promised the support, and both parties must have had the advice of independent lawyers.
Of course, every case is different, and there is no substitution for consulting with an experienced NJ palimony lawyer. For advice about whether you might be eligible for palimony in NJ, contact me, Elizabeth Rozin-Golinder, by filling out my Contact Form or calling (732) 810-0034. I've dedicated my career to practicing family law right here in the Garden State, and I would be honored to share my experience with you.