Live-In Couples Need to be Aware of Differences, Changes in Palimony Laws If They Plan to Collect


Couples who live together without the benefit of marriage cannot benefit from the protections of divorce and alimony laws should their relationship end. Instead, these couples can resolve their financial issues through a contractual arrangement referred to as “palimony.” (1) There are differences, however, between alimony and palimony that, if you are not aware of, could affect your chances of collecting.

The obvious difference between the two is that alimony is granted to married partners and palimony to partners who never married but lived in a marriage-like relationship. Other differences may not be so obvious.(1)

The first is that not all states recognize palimony contracts. New Jersey is one of 23 states that do recognize palimony agreements. (2) Another major difference is that alimony is a support payment ordered by the court after a couple divorces or, in some instances, legally separates. Palimony, on the other hand, is based on a contract the couple entered into during happier times, stipulating that one partner would be supported by the other in return for giving up something, usually his or her career, in order to care for the other. That care can be in the form of caring for the household, raising the children or simply providing companionship.(3)

In many states a palimony contract can be either oral or written. New Jersey, however, amended its palimony laws in 2010, requiring such contracts to be in writing and signed by the partner who promised to provide support. The amendment also requires both partners consult an attorney before signing the agreement. (4)

Palimony agreements are contract matters and, in most states, are decided in civil court. In New Jersey, however, these cases are tried in Family Court. Since they are matters of contract law, palimony agreements cannot be enforced until the contract is broken. This is significant when decideding whether or not a contract is valid according to New Jersey’s amended law. (4)

The recent New Jersey case of Maeker v Ross, involving a couple who began dating in 1988 and ended their relationship in 2011, illustrates this. During the relationship, Ms. Maeker stayed home to care for the couple’s house and Mr. Ross agreed to support them both. When the relationship ended, Ms. Maeker sought continuation of that support based on promises made throughout the relationship. The agreement was neither written nor signed by Mr. Ross, but Ms. Maeker claimed that since it was made prior to the law’s amendment that didn’t matter. The court disagreed, pointing out that the palimony contract is enforced when the promise is broken which, in fact, did happen after the law was amended. Ms. Maeker, according to the court, was not entitled to support since the agreement was neither written nor signed by Mr. Ross. (4)

For a palimony agreement to be enforceable, a couple needs to provide the court with the following:
– proof that a promise for financial support has been made;
– evidence of how long the couple lived together;
– an accounting of how the relationship resembled a marriage;

– confirmation that one party sought financial support from the other. (5)

In New Jersey, that agreement must now be in writing and signed by the person who is to provide the support. It also must be shown that both parties conferred with an attorney before entering into the agreement. (4)


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